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36 minutes | Nov 1, 2021
PODCAST: IBEW/NECA's Sylvester Taylor on Designing a Welcoming Construction Workforce
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the St. Louis Region’s built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.” The “Forum Focus" podcasts present stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen.Some days Sylvester Taylor has a hard time wrapping his head around the path that took him to his current position. His personal path has shown Taylor the need for change in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the St. Louis Region's construction workforce. Now he has the opportunity to help facilitate that needed change. Taylor has been an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers electrician for the last 32 years. He is recording secretary of IBEW Local 1, and co-founder and president of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus,He was chosen this past Spring to lead diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for the Electrical Connection – a partnership between IBEW Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter National Electrical Contractors Association (known as NECA).Taylor serves as treasurer on the Hazelwood School Board, chairman of the St. Louis County Fire Safety and Standards Commission and has served on the board of the Black Jack Fire Protection District. From 2012 to 2019, Taylor also served as the representative for 80th District in the Missouri House of Representatives.“Sylvester has been a tremendous asset in our outreach to minority communities,” said Doug Martin, executive vice president, St. Louis Chapter NECA. “His work in a mentoring program with the Missouri Division of Youth Services has opened pathways for young people to careers in the electrical industry.”About a third of the apprentices now being trained at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center at 2300 Hampton Ave. are minorities.“As leader of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, Sylvester has been instrumental in helping us broaden diversity within our membership,” said Frank Jacobs, Local 1 business manager. “He has been an effective voice for minorities within IBEW, from apprentices to veteran journey workers, helping us better reflect the communities we serve.”Please listen to our interview with Sylvester Taylor.
25 minutes | Oct 26, 2021
Forum Focus Podcast: Well-Read Carpenter Cordell Sawyer Builds Successful Firm
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the St. Louis Region’s built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.” The “Forum Focus” podcasts present stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen.Growing up in University City, Cordell Sawyer always liked to read.While he was working a job as a janitor to support his family he read a book on creating generational wealth. The author suggested three paths: stocks, real estate, or entrepreneurship.Soon, he was taking money that he made as a union carpenter (where he was one of the first apprentices to take advantage of the Carpenters’ associate degree program) and investing it in real estate.In 2009, when the building economy turned down, he read an article about the need for qualified minority contractors. He took the leap to found his own construction company Sledroc Construction Co. (that’s a play on his name in reverse). He started his business with a business plan in hand that he had developed by enrolling in a program and – once again – reading and studying.The path has not been simple since then, but Cordell has continued to read, learn and to network and build connections that many in his position as an MBE contractor outside traditional networks find hard to master.Today Sledroc has worked on highly visible projects in our region, with some of the areas most respected contractors. His company was selected by SLC3 (St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers) as its M/W/DBE of the year in 2020Please listen to our conversation with Cordell Sawyer.
25 minutes | Oct 19, 2021
Joe Lewandowski, McCarthy PM on BJC Campus Renewal Phase 3
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the St. Louis Region’s built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.” The “Forum Focus” podcasts present stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen.Today we’re talking with Joe Lewandowski, a project director for McCarthy Building Companies’ Central Region.Lewandowski is leading the construction team Phase 3 of the BJC HealthCare Campus Renewal Project. This project entails a replacement for Queeny Tower, located at Kingshighway and Barnes Place. McCarthy was the general contractor on Queeny, which was completed in 1965. Since joining McCarthy in 2005, he has managed a range of prominent hospital expansion projects, most notably the New Orleans VA Medical Center, a nine-building new campus that replaced critical medical infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The BJC Phase 3 includes the use of innovative technology and a strong focus on diversity and inclusion. Let’s listen to our interview with Joe Lewandowski.
25 minutes | Oct 16, 2021
Aurora Bihler, Next Director of Building Union Diversity Program
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the St. Louis Region’s built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.” The “Forum Focus” podcasts present stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen.When Aurora Bihler graduated from high school her Dad bought her an acetylene welding rig.The young budding artist was concerned lest she burn down the family garage so she enrolled in a welding class. She earned associate and bachelors degrees in fine arts and went on to work for a state-funded archeological survey.But when the opportunity arose to put her welding skills to work as a union ironworker she took advantage of it.Soon, her passion for social equity and social justice, which also began in school, led her to become a mentor and activist for women in the trades and for imprisoned women seeking a fresh start.Now she has been named to head up the St. Louis branch of the MO AFL-CIO’s Building Union Diversity program known as BUD. Russ Signorino, the current director, is retiring in December.Let’s listen to our conversation with Aurora Bihler.
27 minutes | Oct 5, 2021
PEOPLE of Construction's Ron Unterreiner's 'Retirement
In September, Ron Unterreiner celebrated a birthday he didn't expect to see when he founded People of Construction back in 2013.Around the time he founded his nonprofit, which introduces minority- and women-owned businesses to the broader construction industry, he was diagnosed with ALS.That's normally a death sentence, but Unterreiner is not someone who is easily stopped.He successfully explored alternative medical treatments and today is mostly symptom free. The nonprofit organizations he founded are also enjoying robust health. When he's not attending his grandchildren's cross country meets, Unterreiner might be working on a book (he's written six so far), or raising money for a nonprofit that exposes young people to construction. Ron Unterreiner calls PEOPLE “a non-funded, non-profit, non-organization established for the primary purpose of introducing the minority contracting community to the majority contracting community.” PEOPLE is among other things, a focused networking event allowing minority contractors to mix it up with majority-owned GCs. subcontractors, professional organizations and owners and get to know each other and ultimately to work together on meaningful commercial construction projects.On the eve of his retirement from a six-decade career in construction, Unterreiner looked at the lack of equity and capacity for minority firms in the industry and decided to do something about it. He made it his mission to level the playing field so every small business has access to commercial construction project opportunities. PEOPLE organization meets in person during non-COVID times and on Zoom in the last two years. Some meetings attract as many as 240 attendees. Unterreiner also sends out monthly newsletters with tips and strategies for the minority owners. After his success with People in Construction, Unterreiner started Women-Owned Business Enterprises of Design & Construction (WBEDC) in March 2020, a similar organization dedicated to women-owned construction firms.
38 minutes | Sep 22, 2021
Sal Valadez, "Premio Esperanza" Winner, Redefines Hope for Diversity
On October 8th the Hispanic Leaders Group of Greater St. Louis (HLG) will present the 2021 Anthony B. Ramirez Premio Esperanza (Hope) Award to Sal Valadez.Sal Valadez is a Mexican immigrant, a U.S. Army Veteran, and a graduate of The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa where he was awarded an M.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Political Science.He is also a 2019 Fellow of the Washington University in St Louis Community Research Fellows Training Program.Valadez is a dynamic leader, participating in the board of directors for several organizations in the region, including the Hispanic Leaders Group board. He is also the recipient of multiple awards, most recently including the 2020 St. Louis Business Journal, Diverse Business Leaders Award, and the 2019 St. Louis County Diversity Champion Award.He is employed by LiUNA — Missouri & Kansas Laborers’ District Council — as representative for Diversity, Outreach & Marketing for their Diversity Initiative. From 2020 to 2021, Valadez also acted as Assistant Research Investigator for a Washington University funded project: “The Opioids Crisis and the St Louis Region, An Immigrant and Ethnic Community Survey”.Throughout his career, Valadez has been an advocate on issues related to language access, diversity, inclusion, and equity.The Anthony B. Ramirez Premio Esperanza was established by The Hispanic Leaders Group of Greater St. Louis (HLG) in 2003. The award’s inscription reads: “To you, for giving Hope… To those seeking change”.
17 minutes | Sep 14, 2021
Gerry Bolden: A Carpenter Builds a Business
With a background as an entrepreneur, commercial carpenter, project engineer, foreman and project superintendent, Gerry Bolden started Bolden Construction Services. His goal was to ensure that project owners, general contractors, home builders and residential customers would have access to superior quality, minority construction professionals whose expertise and dedication to excellence ensured craftsmanship and performance on every project.Bolden Construction Services’ capabilities include construction management, rough and finish carpentry, metal stud framing, drywall installation, insulation application , acoustical ceilings, and renovation. A native of East St. Louis, Gerry Bolden holds an Associate degree in construction carpentry from Southwestern Illinois College and a Bachelor of Arts in construction management from the National Labor College. His 26-plus years of field and professional experience, eye for detail, and passion for construction have helped him develop a strong company for either subcontractor or prime opportunities on a variety of projects.
25 minutes | Jun 1, 2021
Lisa Reed of Envision Lighting on Creating Paths for Women
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the St. Louis Region’s built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.”The “Forum Focus” podcasts present stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen.This edition of Forum Focus features an interview with Lisa Reed, founding principal of Envision Lighting Design. Raised in the town of Marshall in Western Missouri, Lisa had a mind that could combine problem solving and design.Even at as a young girl she had a competitive nature that led her to take on the boys to see how fast she could solve math problems. architectural student at Kansas University, she found that she was interested in lighting design.Out of school, Lisa was hired on as a CAD tech at an Orlando firm. There, an older electrical engineer provided the mentoring that she would need to become certified as an electrical engineer.A stint at Lighting Design Alliance in Los Angeles allowed her opportunities to work on nationally recognized projects.Over her 27-plus year career she has bridged multiple disciplines –including energy management, electrical engineering, teaching, lighting sales, and lighting design.Her path as a woman entrepreneur, wife, and mother has informed the culture she has built at Envision Lighting. She is an advocate for students, young professionals, women, and diversity in her field.
26 minutes | Apr 13, 2021
Cory Elliott of CMT LLC on Moving Beyond Labels
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the St. Louis Region’s built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.”The “Forum Focus” podcasts present stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen.Everything about Cory Elliott, CEO of CMT LLC., resists labeling. She's Black. She’s a woman. She’s a roofing, demolition and abatement contractor. She’s also a St. Louis native with two Masters degrees from Washington University. Cory Elliott was a top facilities executive with a major national healthcare organization. Working as an owner’s representative and now a contractor, she can view the M/WBE world from both sides of the table. In this edition of Forum Focus we’ll hear Cory’s unique perspective on our industry and region.
29 minutes | Mar 12, 2021
Otis Williams on His Career of Supporting Social Equity, Economic Growth
In this edition of Forum Focus we're talking with Otis Williams. Mr. Williams will be retiring in April from his position as executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, after 20 years with that agency. Prior to that he had a distinguished military career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, culminating in the rank of colonel and a position as Corps chief of staff at the Pentagon. Throughout his tenure in St. Louis, Mr. Williams has been a tireless advocate for social equity and economic growth for the City of St. Louis and for the region. Recently SLDC rolled out its Equitable Economic Development Framework that aims to address the city’s population loss and opportunity gaps for people of color. As part of it, SLDC staff will be reorganized to focus on particular geographic areas to ensure that no neighborhood will be left behind.Otis Williams is also a member of the Board of Directors of Construction Forum.
12 minutes | Mar 4, 2021
Scott Wilson on a Career Advocating for Inclusion and Fairness
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the St. Louis Region’s built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.”In this edition of Forum Focus, we talk with Scott Wilson, CEO of construction management firm S.M. Wilson & Co. He will retire April 1 — 37 years to the day from his start date with the company.Throughout his career, Scott Wilson has been an active, vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in the St. Louis construction industry — in both the workforce and the contractor sectorsHe began supporting diversity in the industry early in his tenure at S.M. Wilson. Over the years, he was involved in such efforts as the development of the ACCESS Center (Association for Construction Careers Education and Support in St. Louis) in the early 2000s and, more recently, the Contractor Loan Fund.In retirement he intends to continue working for a more fair and equitable St. Louis built environment.
19 minutes | Feb 28, 2021
KWAME's Anthony Thompson: "None of Us Has Made It Until All of Us Have Made It."
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.” Forum Focus presents stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen. This edition of Forum Focus features an interview with Anthony Thompson, chairman and CEO of KWAME Building Group, the region's largest minority-owned pure construction management firm. On February 25, Tony Thompson was presented with Construction Forum's Leadership Institute Award. Mr. Thompson has promoted diversity and inclusion in the region's construction industry for over 30 years, both within his own firm, by assisting other minority firms, and by inspiring the next generation of MBE firm leaders.
37 minutes | Oct 15, 2020
Sedrick Brandt's Down to Earth Path to Success
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.” Forum Focus will present stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen. In this podcast, Focus presents the story of Sedrick Brandt. Sedrick Brandt's path to success with his excavating firm, Brandt Contracting has been anything but straight-line or overnight. It was marked by a lot of unusual turns, hard work, and great advice. After serving in the military he became an equipment operator. With breaks for other enterprises, he operated construction equipment off and on for 20 years. Along the way he earned a cum laude bachelors degree in information technology from Maryville University. He also owned a commercial cleaning business. After earning his IT degree he worked in the tech sector for several years, until the tech bubble burst. He then returned to construction, a move which ultimately resulted in him starting his own business. Brandt Contracting recently "graduated" from the Regional Union Construction Center, also known as the RUCC. Business owners who pass the rigorous screening for acceptance in the RUCC are assigned a board of advisors which includes an attorney, a CPA, a construction business owner and a CPA.In 2016 Sedrick Brandt was one of two M/WBE contractors selected by Ameren for a scholarship to attend the Minority Business Executive Program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Brandt said that he learned to operate lean and efficiently from some of the contractors he worked for during his years as an operator. Brandt Contracting has an office staff of two people, with approximately 20 workers in the field. The company has historically done about $3M in business annually, but is on a track to double that number for 2020.
33 minutes | Aug 11, 2020
Ronny Griffin: The Truth on Workforce Inclusion
Construction Forum’s mission is, “To facilitate the collaboration of all the stakeholders in the built environment in creating inclusive, robust employment and economic growth.” Forum Focus will present stories of people who are working to make that vision and mission happen.In this edition of Forum Focus we’re going to hear the story of Ronny Griffin. Ronny is president and a business agent with Laborers Local 110 – the 10th largest union local in the St. Louis region. Ronny’s also a member of the second generation in his family to work in the St. Louis Construction industry. While that’s a common story for white industry members, it is a path that is far from usual for Blacks. Ronny’s father and uncle worked for their entire careers in the quarry operations of Fred Weber Construction.Fred Weber was a tough highway builder, who was noted for his fairness and generosity. Workers – Black and white – told the same story of Fred awarding performance with watches, Cadillacs, and trips to his vacation home in the Cayman Islands.As a member of a large family, Ronny noted that he was not the sibling who was noted for his interest in academics. Joining his father and uncle at Weber, he learned the ropes – performing manual labor, running equipment, dynamiting rock. Finally he took over his uncle’s position running a piece of equipment that crushed boulders into small rocks. It was a job he could have worked to retirement in a few years. Sitting in the air-conditioned cab, pushing a button every few minutes all day gave him plenty of time to read. He studied union history and law. When he was asked if he would consider running for union office he realized that he could help make a difference in the lives of young Black men and women wanting to come into the construction trades. Ronny pulls no punches – either with young people he is counseling about careers in construction or with fellow union members, contractors, and owners. He cares… and it shows. Here’s our interview with Ronny. Production Notes: Our interview for this episode was done on-the-fly with a smartphone. We apologize for any issues with audio quality. Music is "We All Need Somebody," written and produced by Russ Mohr and performed by The Kingdom Sessions.
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