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By Nancy Mccarthy of The Skanner
Published: 15 February 2006

Kaiser Permanente is launching an outreach and mentoring program to help minority contractors compete for construction projects the hospital is planning in Portland during the next several years.

More than $1.7 billion in construction projects are planned for Oregon and Washington, with most of that in the Portland area, said Joanna Davison, manager of national facilities services diversity for Kaiser.

But just as construction plans are coming on line for Kaiser, local construction crews are heading out of Portland and down to Louisiana to rebuild New Orleans and other towns. The new program will help "build our pool of contractors" for the future, she said.

"This is an opportunity for contractors to gain experience in the health care environment and to add to their portfolio so they can grow their business," Davison said. "Kaiser benefits by having increased available contractors qualified to help us with our projects."

Last year, Kaiser Permanente in the Northwest spent $5.024 million on minority small businesses and $2.9 million on large minority-ownedbusinesses. Another $12.7 million was spent on women-owned businesses, according to Davison.
The new program is designed to remove the barriers that have blocked non-union minority contractors from working on Kaiser projects. Those barriers include a lack of long-term experience in the construction field and in health-care construction specifically, Davison said. In addition, because of Kaiser's commitment to support the labor union, non-union contractors have been ineligible to bid for work.

Now, however, the Columbia PacificBuildingand Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO is discussing a plan with Kaiser to allow non-union minority contractors to work on specific projects if they sign a Project Labor Agreement. The agreement would require the contractor to pay union-level wages and benefits to workers without having to formally vote on union representation.

The plan could help to expand the union's membership eventually, said John Mohlis, executive secretary and treasurer for the union. "If there are (minority- or women-owned) businesses who can grow into signatory members, and who can provide good salaries and benefits, then that benefits everybody — the union and the community," Mohlis said.

Small one- and two-person shops aren't too small to be considered for the program, Davison said, as long as they're willing to follow union rules on particular projects.

"The corner stone of our project is to ensure they have the tools necessary to succeed not in construction but in hospital construction," Davison added.

The first steps in finding minority contractors began last week during a presentation by Kaiser in Portland. Letters are being sent out to thecontractorswho expressed interest. They will be asked to complete a profile sheet, and after Kaiser has determined their licenses are in good standing and they aren't disqualified from doing business with federally funded agencies, such as Kaiser, they will be able to participate, Davison said.

"We're going to start with fairly small projects but will expand them as the contractors become more experienced," she said.

Renovation and remodeling projects worth up to $500,000 will be offered at the beginning, as the contractors learn more about working in a medically sensitive environment, said Rick Ginley, a consultant to Kaiser.

Ginley noted that, unlike office buildings, hospitals require special precautions, such as life-safety equipment, patients and medical staff to work around. Project managers will be assigned to assist contractors in adjusting to the health care environment. Help will be given in project management, cash-flow management, setting up systems and procedures and project bidding.

"We're really excited about the program," Davison said. "This is a first for Kaiser Permanente, and we're vested in its success in Portland."

To learn more about the program, write to Davison at1800 Harrison St., 19th floor, Oakland, CA  94612, or call her at 510-625-2885.

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