I am a second-generation white male that is in the mechanical contracting business. As a licensed contractor, I’ve worked with top tier clients in Pharma, Big Tech, and others throughout the US for mechanical contracting in new construction, service, BMS, and facility operations in new & existing facilities.
Several years ago, I sold my successful 30-year-old contracting business and started a couple of new business ventures. One is InfraPros, LLC a now four-year-old mechanical contracting company. After 30 years as an HVAC contractor, it has been familiar ground.
I was intentionally quiet in the contracting industry for a couple of years and then started again doing a few mechanical projects. These were mainly for friends and past customers. One day, an enthusiastic customer named Kevin Cooper came to me and wanted to know if I would hire him to go after and execute some mechanical service and contracting work.
Having great respect for Kevin and his skill set, I asked myself, why isn’t he already in this business and working for himself? Kevin is black and the answer came to me like a brick falling on my head. The deck was stacked against him and his entry into this business was almost an impossibility.
Why is this so? The answer is simple, and part of it is generational. The air conditioning business we know today got established in the early to mid-’50s when industrial and commercial refrigeration became a viable proposition. When you look around at the familiar leaders in the business, they are second and third-generation business owners who sit inside a wall built around the industry and work hard to protect and promote their position in it. It is hard enough for a new business to enter the market, but nearly impossible for minority business to succeed.
When I considered this further, I couldn’t come up with a single black-owned mechanical contracting business that had a position in the large industrial and commercial market. Worse yet, there didn’t seem to be a workable effort to organically create one. So, after some soul searching and reflection, I asked Kevin if he wanted to buy and operate InfraPros, LLC.
In August of 2020, Kevin bought a majority interest and became a certified Historically Underutilized Business (HUB). HUB is a program that clients use to help promote diversity in their vendors. A large number of big-name clients in the industry are now requiring up to 35% of HUB participation in their new construction and ongoing operations. With Kevin at the helm, we now have a mission and vehicle to bring new, more diverse faces into the mechanical contracting and facility operations industry.
HUB sounds like a great solution to bring minorities into the business? .... Not so fast.
As well-intended as it sounds, the deck is still stacked against new business entry. In nearly every prospectus for new work, there are business qualifying questions such as: how many employees do you have and how long have you been in business. These questions are a legacy of, and promote the exclusion of new businesses into the marketplace. The good old boy network at it’s best. Even if a client wants to be part of a well-intended plan for inclusion, it still presents a barrier for new businesses in soliciting business.
One of our core missions is to bring minorities into the contracting and service business, provide training, and make them a viable part of the industry… but we have to have the business to hire and train them.
We can get the people to execute the business, we just need the business to hire the people.
So we are on a drive to suggest that clients, contractors, and vendors think about supporting diversity and inclusion in a new way, by giving us a chance to succeed. Those that have are saying amazing things about the work that we do. We know we have to be the smartest kid on the block when we execute business. We know we won’t be invited back unless we over-perform.
Creating an environment to support diversity and inclusion is not a straight path forward but requires some rethinking about how we support new business entry into the market. Can we make the change? I think we can with some good help from some good friends.
Vice-president, InfraPros, LLC
Visit our site at www.InfraPros.net