Saturday, April 24, 2010

Walsh gives boost to Woman Contractor who gives boost to Tradeswomen

Subcontractor gets boost to contractor

POSTED: Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 04:11 PM PT
BY: Justin Carinci
Tags: ,
Walsh Construction is helping build the skills of small contractor Great Kate Construction, letting Great Kate serve as general contractor on the Celilo Court Apartments renovation. The experience will allow Great Kate to bid million-dollar-plus projects as a general contractor.

Walsh Construction is helping build the skills of small contractor Great Kate Construction, letting it serve as general contractor on the Celilo Court Apartments renovation. The experience will allow Great Kate to bid million-dollar-plus projects as a general contractor. (Photo by Dan Carter/DJC)

Kathryn Merritt had remodeled enough homes that the Celilo Court Apartments project didn’t scare her. “I could do these buildings in my sleep,” she said.

However, Merritt, owner of Great Kate Construction, hadn’t counted on the paperwork and administrative hoops required in public contracting, “I’m going to print up my own MBA when this job’s done,” she said.

Great Kate is general contractor for that 28-unit apartment complex overhaul in Northeast Portland, worth more than $1 million.

The project came from a unique arrangement between Walsh Constructionand Great Kate. Walsh won a contract with the Housing Authority of Portland to serve as construction manager-general contractor on five apartment complex remodel jobs.

For one of those, Celilo Court, Walsh turned the project over to Great Kate. It’s a vote of confidence, said Dan Snow, senior project manager for Walsh; he knows his company’s reputation with the housing authority is on the line.

“We’re ultimately responsible for everything on the project,” Snow said. “They know they can come back to us on anything.

“We hold (Great Kate) to pretty high standards - the same standards we’re held to,” he said.

Great Kate has done the type of work on the project - new floors, furnaces, water heaters, kitchens - many times. “It’s not a huge construction leap for her,” Snow said. “Administrative, yes. Construction-wise, it’s not too far out of her box.”

Walsh has twice worked with small contractors like Great Kate, helping them develop skills so they can grow from subcontractor to general contractor. When she’s done with Celilo Court, Merritt can bid as a general contractor on housing authority or other projects, which she plans to do.

Kathryn Merritt, owner of Great Kate Construction, discusses work at the Celilo Court Apartments project in Northeast Portland. Great Kate is the general contractor on the project, with oversight by Walsh Construction.

Kathryn Merritt, owner of Great Kate Construction, discusses work at the Celilo Court Apartments project in Northeast Portland. (Photo by Dan Carter/DJC)

That puts Walsh in the position of boosting companies that will compete against Walsh for projects. “That is a concern,” Snow said. “But giving smaller companies, target businesses, minority- and women-owned companies the opportunity to succeed … more than outweighs the risks of having them compete against us.”

For the Celilo Court project, Merritt considers herself as much of a mentor as a mentee. “Because we have work and other people don’t, we have a responsibility to share it,” she said.

Merritt hired out-of-work contractors and sought to make sure her subcontractors use a diverse workforce. She also pays special attention to apprentices, ensuring they have opportunities to grow.

Carrie Davis, an apprentice carpenter for the Celilo Court project, said female apprentices at other jobs get stuck doing cleanup or driving trucks. “I talk to my friends and they always say, ‘I’m the only woman on the job,’ ” Davis said.

“That’s never the case here.”

Merritt, who started working as a carpenter in 1979, still resists pigeonholing. She wants to do good work, period, and not just good work for a minority-, woman- and emerging-small-business firm.

“I don’t really want to be known as a really good MWESB contractor, just like I never wanted to be known as a really good female carpenter,” she said. “We don’t need that diminutive attached to what we do.”

Part of Merritt’s training goal is to encourage talented tradeswomen to be vocal. “I have to teach them to speak up and be assertive, to say ‘Hey! I’ve got the other end of something.’ ”

Another piece is making connections. “Who you know socially affects who you can get a job from,” Merritt said.

She first connected with Walsh by meeting one of the company’s carpenters on a Habitat for Humanity job. That led to a house remodel job, and eventually Celilo Court.

Doing good work and going through established channels isn’t always enough, Merritt said. Some contractors prequalify for agency lists, register as MWESB firms and still don’t get work.

“Some of these things aren’t as valuable as taking the project manager out for a beer,” she said.


http://djcoregon.com/news/2010/04/22/subcontractor-gets-boost-to-contractor/

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