Saturday, January 23, 2010

MWBE Firms Benefit from Diversity Program at City Center

Minority firms benefit from CityCenter experience


Sam Morris

Kevin Lay of A-1 Concrete Cutting & Demolition drills a hole for a water pipe Jan. 15 for a future store in Crystals at CityCenter.

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 (3 a.m.)

Minority- and women-owned construction companies are sad to see work winding down at CityCenter, but they haven’t forgotten the benefits they reaped from the project and hope to build on that in the future.

About 200 firms helped build CityCenter, gaining more than $700 million in construction and design contracts over the past five years. It was part of a diversity initiative by MGM Mirage and Perini Building Co., general contractor of CityCenter, to ensure minority-owned firms had a chance to bid on the project.

Many companies took advantage of the opportunity to grow their companies, gain valuable experience and position themselves for major construction projects down the road.

Among them is Las Vegas-based A-1 Concrete Cutting & Demolition, which has done $10 million worth of concrete-cutting and drilling work in addition to excavation and rock removal at CityCenter.

A-1 has operated in Las Vegas for 23 years and has worked for MGM Mirage on projects such as MGM Grand and Bellagio. MGM’s mandate that minority-owned firms participate has been a big plus for A-1, owner Joe Montero said.

“Without this program, we would not have had the (ability) to meet other contractors,” Montero said. “They would do what they normally did, which was use somebody they are used to working with.”

Before CityCenter construction started, A-1 had about 50 to 60 workers. At the height of construction, it had as many as 120. As it winds down work at Crystals, the retail center, it has 42 employees.

Montero also said his company is returning to its roots and trying to do more retrofitting. When hotels don’t have money to build, they remodel rooms instead, he said. “It’s not as lucrative, but it works,” he added.

“Life goes on. There will be other things. We are reaching out to do more government work. That seems to be where the money is.”

Even though the work is nearly finished, many companies that were lured to Las Vegas by CityCenter will continue to have a presence in the city. Dallas-based Azteca Steel parlayed setting up shop in Las Vegas to work on CityCenter to other construction projects.

The general contractor and steel company that built the pedestrian crossing over Harmon Avenue and metal railing and other ornamental metal work at CityCenter has also worked at Planet Hollywood and other casinos and at Queensridge. It will be wrapping up its $30 million in work at CityCenter by the end of the month.

“It has been a great opportunity for us, and now we are established in Las Vegas and looking at other projects,” said Dave Rodney, manager of the Las Vegas office of Azteca, a Hispanic-owned firm. “Without this work, we probably would not have come to Las Vegas. It gave us a chance to establish ourselves. The volume is going to be way down, but our intention is to stay and have enough work for a small crew here.”

Even without minority status, Montero said his firm would have survived because his company didn’t always have that distinction. When MGM went to its diversity program, Montero said he was looking into transferring the business to his wife, but learned that he qualified as a Hispanic since his father was born in Portugal.

“I didn’t even know I was a minority until someone told me,” said Montero, who employs a lot of Hispanic workers and supervisors.

“I really appreciate the efforts of MGM for the opportunity for us to grow. I think small companies need that.”

Rodney said the diversity program helps companies such as his get in the door, but they need to be competitive to get the job.

MGM launched its diversity program in 2000. It required that any construction and design project of more than $1,000 have bids from minority- and women-owned firms.

Phyllis James, a senior vice president, deputy general counsel and chief diversity officer at MGM Mirage, said there are no set-asides or quotas for the firms but only an opportunity to bid.

“What we have found out is that when you open the doors to opportunity, you find people who you didn’t know about before who are qualified to do your work,” James said. “It has opened the doors to the talent that exists.”

That in turn has benefited MGM Mirage because it brings competition to projects and additional skill sets that are needed, an important element for a large project such as CityCenter, James said.

Many of the firms have grown and prospered because of that opportunity and developed the expertise to do other big jobs, James said. It even enabled many to increase their bonding capacity to work large jobs.

“We don’t have any control over what they do later on, but part of our philosophy has been and in particular with CityCenter is that when you give people an opportunity to work on a challenging project like that, it enhances their skill set and makes them able to compete for other jobs, whether it is a casino company down the street. They might not have had that competitiveness if they hadn’t worked on a project like CityCenter.”


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