About Us | Gallery Search | About this Site | About Heavy Construction 

Bridge News

Small firms can't get big project

November 30, 2004 Reposted from the Oakland Tribune
  By Alec Rosenberg

FOR OAKLAND'S Handy Rebar, the new Bay Bridge is a chance to show its talents on a high-profile local project.

Owner J.R. Handy said his firm supplied 1,000 tons of rebar for the bridge's W2 tower foundation. The Oakland native was happy to get the work, partnering with Regional Steel of Tracy. The $450,000 project was a big job for his firm, which had revenue of $1.5 million last year.

Handy had up to 10 people working on the bridge project, including his 75-year-old father, but his 6-year-old firm is now down to six employees.

"I've been in rebar since I was a kid. This is my whole life," Handy said. "I would love to be doing more of this Bay Bridge. I'm 2 miles from the Bay Bridge."

It has been difficult for small, local minority-owned firms to get big contracts on the highly specialized $5.1 billion new Bay Bridge. But some Oakland companies such as Handy Rebar, Lawrence Construction and Marinship Construction Services have been hired. And all of the bridge work has opened up opportunities for local firms to get contracts on other big construction projects like the Oakland International Airport expansion.

Ed Dillard, president of the Oakland Black Board of Trade and Commerce, has pushed for minority-owned firms such as Handy's to get work on the Bay Bridge.

"This project is a huge economic shot in the arm to Oakland," Dillard said, but the hiring of local, disadvantaged business enterprises, known as DBE, has been "a drop in the bucket."

The biggest contract awarded so far has been the $1 billion skyway. The skyway DBE goal initially was 20 percent, then lowered to 12 percent and ended up about 5 percent under contractor KFM. But on the tower's marine foundations, KFM was the only bidder to meet the 6 percent DBE goal, which helped it win the contract, even though its bid was $3 million above the lowest one.

Dillard was pleased that the American Bridge team exceeded the 5 percent DBE goal on its tower bid. But the lone $1.4 billion bid was rejected Sept. 30.

While bridge work is specialized and bonding requirements can be a barrier, "there are hundreds, thousands of DBEs in this state, particularly in Northern California that could do the work," Dillard said. Ron Silva, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Alameda County, said he wants more minority contractor participation and hopes that it will happen on the tower section. "The contracts are so large it ends up excluding a lot of us, unfortunately," Silva said.

The Port of Oakland, which oversees the Oakland airport expansion, has an 11 percent DBE goal in fiscal 2004. In September, the port said an airport hangar project far exceeded its DBE goal, coming in at 59 percent, or about $1.5 million. "The success of the port's contracting efforts demonstrates that the Port of Oakland is serious when it comes to awarding contracts to companies that are committed to delivering social equity," said Bernida Reagan, director of the port's social responsibility division.

On the new Bay Bridge, Caltrans tried to increase participation by breaking the work into 16 contracts and holding several contractor outreach meetings.

One local group that has prospered is the Bay Area Construction Sector Intervention Collaborative, or BACSIC, whose office is on the old Oakland Army Base, a mile from the foot of the Bay Bridge.

BACSIC's clients are primarily local men in their mid-30s. A few are women. BACSIC has built up a relationship with skyway contractor KFM, referring about 50 people and getting 15 placed on jobs.

The people who have gotten placed are experienced, Francois said. So far, the work has focused on trades such as carpenters, cement workers, ironworkers, piledrivers and welders.

"You can't just put apprentices up high on a bridge," said Alex Francois, BACSIC program director and a former carpenter. "I think a lot of people thought there would be hundreds of jobs on the Bay Bridge (for Oakland area residents). ... It's not the case. It's such a specialized kind of work. There's not a lot of people who have the skills to do the bridge work."

BACSIC aims to prepare workers for careers in construction. Some need training at places such as Laney College or Cypress Mandela center in Oakland. Others need mentoring.

BACSIC expects to place more laborers, carpenters and cement masons once roadway placement picks up on the skyway section, employment specialist Richey Rice-Gore said.

"Those are the trades where we do have a lot of people," Rice-Gore said. "We're just glad the bridge is here. The only thing we want is more jobs, more jobs."

Alec Rosenberg can be reached at (510) 208-6445 or [email protected].

The Bridge | The Builders | The Projects | Photo Galleries | History | Build Your Bridge
About Us | Gallery Search | About this Site | About Heavy Construction | Contact Us