Atlanta MBDA Centers Connects MBEs Regionally with Southeast Connections

When the Atlanta Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Centers first launched the Specialty Trades Aiming at the Right Targets (START) to Build program in 2018, their team envisioned a robust, regional program that provided client Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) firms in construction with contracts, connections, and opportunities.

In its three years of operation, the program has generated over $15 million in awarded contracts and connected MBEs with general contractors to create long-term, sustainable relationships. Corporations such as Microsoft, Skanska, Brasfield & Gorrie, Turner Construction, and Leapley Construction have participated in the program and connected MBEs with opportunities in their project pipelines. In the past month, staff of the Atlanta MBDA Centers took a large step in scaling START to Build to a regional level, as they led a collaboration with five MBDA Centers to launch a five-day matchmaking event with Southeast Connections (SEC), a subsidiary of Artera.

During the week-long event, MBE contractors were given 15 minutes to pitch their services to Valerie Ballew, SEC’s director of procurement, providing an opportunity for SEC to increase its contractor supplier base with diverse companies. “I think that this initial matchmaking event was a success,” said Valerie Ballew, “I’d like to thank the MBDA Centers, for their collaboration. I look forward to participating in future matchmaking events and establishing connections with more MBE firms.”

What was unique about this event in particular was its broad reach. Not only did it provide opportunities to clients from the Atlanta MBDA Centers, but it also provided opportunities to Centers and their clients throughout the Southeast.

“It’s one of our more ambitious teaming arrangements in our national network to date,” explained Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., director of the Atlanta MBDA Business and Advanced Manufacturing Centers at Georgia Tech. “We collaborated with MBDA centers in Columbia, Miami, Memphis, Orlando, and Washington, DC to provide opportunities to 37 MBEs.”

Thus far, reviews have been favorable. “Our matchmaking connection with Southeast Connections was very informative and fruitful,” reported Sondi Henry, marketing coordinator with UJAMAA Construction. “We’ve made a connection that we believe will greatly benefit both companies. We truly appreciate the Atlanta MBDA Centers for putting this virtual event together.”

UJAMAA’s sentiments were echoed by Josef Powell, the CEO and president of Orlando-based parts distributor Mapex USA, who found the event to be “very useful, productive, and relevant for our business.”

“We look forward to future events like this, as well as following up with SEC to create a truly mutually beneficial relationship going forward,” he reported.

Likewise, Laurita Jackson of Memphis-based Enfinity Supply was also enthusiastic about the matchmaking event, calling it “a great opportunity for us to demonstrate our ability to provide a value-added solution for SEC.”

“Our meeting with Valerie was very focused, resulting in a clear understanding of SEC, potential opportunities and a definitive timeline for follow-up,” she added, “We look forward to developing a mutually beneficial relationship with Southeast Connections.”

“It’s opportunities like these that open doors and relationships for MBEs,” said Ennis. START to Build helps to foster long-term relationships for both subcontractors and primes.  Now that we have completed this first regional effort, we have a blueprint for going national.”

Constructing Communities

Ujamaa Construction was originally founded in 2002 by Jimmy Akintonde, President and CEO. In 2017, however, Ujamaa Construction opened an Atlanta based office led by Co-Principal and Executive Vice President Todd Pressley. Serving as a general construction company specializing in demolition and mill work, Ujamaa has grown to an organization of 75 employees and projected growth throughout the southeast.

After opening the Atlanta office in 2017, Ujamaa Construction soon began working as a client of the Atlanta MBDA Centers. Since becoming a client, Ujamaa has pursued and received a number of contracts via the assistance of the Atlanta MBDA Centers staff. Most notably, Ujamaa was contracted on the START to Build Program for the Microsoft Atlantic Yards Project in Atlantic Station. The Atlanta MBDA Centers START to Build program is a client-led consortium that includes construction firms, specialty trade contractors, and developers, as well as facilities management firms interested in building connections to create new business opportunities.

In opening the Atlanta office, Ujamaa was specifically looking to fill the gap of black owned construction companies operating on the south side of Atlanta. Operating on their business values to help contribute back to their local communities and rebuild rundown areas, Ujamaa centers their projects around their tagline Rebuilding our Community One Block at a Time. At this time, Ujamaa has been contracted for a number of projects with Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Atlanta including Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University. They have also been involved with a mentorship program through Construction Ready West Side Works to help open up opportunities for apprenticeships in the construction industry.

To learn more about Ujamaa make sure to visit their website, LinkedIn Page, and Facebook page.

Construction Focused on Social Responsibility

Born in Boston but raised in Colombia, Guiomar Obregon returned to the United States to receive both an MBA and Master of Civil Engineering degree from Georgia Tech. In partnership with her husband, Ms. Obregon opened Precision 2000, a civil-infrastructure construction firm, in 1998, and together they took on their first project at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Over time, Precision 2000 continued to be contracted on projects with Hartsfield-Jackson as well as additional projects with the city of Atlanta and other private companies. Today, Precision 2000 has been one of the few Hispanic female-owned companies to work on the expansion of the Atlanta airport.

Ms. Obregon first came into contact with the Atlanta MBDA Business Center when she was pursuing an 8(a) certification for Precision 2000 in 2002. After her initial application for the certification was returned, Ms. Obregon noted that the guidance and expertise offered by the centers allowed her to refile the application and accurately and effectively navigate through the paperwork to achieve 8(a) certification. Since her initial contact with the Centers, Ms. Obregon has participated in a handful of matchmaking events, roundtables, and meet and greets offered through the Atlanta MBDA Centers.

I thank the MBDA Centers who promote and support minority contractors. Its a huge help to know where to go when you need support or a connection. They are always available to help. Its really great advice and at a great value. Im extremely grateful weve had the opportunity to work with the Atlanta Centers.” – Guiomar Obregon 

Ms. Obregon noted that her education from Georgia Tech has helped propel her forward in her career as an entrepreneur and civil engineer. To continue to inspire the next generation of students from Colombia as well as to promote engineering education, Precision 2000 established the Precision 2000 Inc. Fellowship at Georgia Tech’s School of Building Construction in December of 2017. With an initial commitment of $40,000, and a pledge to increase the fellowship funding to $100,000 in 2021, Precision 2000 continues to invest in the future of a greater, global community. To learn more about the fellowship, click here.

Precision 2000 strives to be the leading civil infrastructure construction company, known for innovation, reliability, and excellence. With a reputation as a respected airport general contractor, it continues to tread forward despite the unprecedented times of the last year. Noting that Precision 2000 survived the 2008 recession and has now survived the 2020 pandemic recession, Ms. Obregon’s positive attitude and leadership style has helped her company navigate the unique circumstances needed to not just rebuild, but excel in their work.

To learn more about Precision 2000, make sure to visit their website and follow them on Facebook and LinkedIn.