Distribute tools for success in the building trades

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Brooke Woodson
National Business Partner Diversity Manager, Suffolk
Age: 57
Industrial experience: 26 years

Brooke Woodson grooms Black- and women-owned contractors to partner with Massachusetts’ largest construction company, Boston-based Suffolk, on major projects across the United States. Suffolk” training program that instructs various construction companies in the technological, financial, and legal skills needed to participate in major projects such as the Encore Boston Harbor casino. Former Menino administration official and association executive nonprofit Madison Park Development Corp., Woodson joined Suffolk in 2017.

Q: What was your own background in the building trades?
A: It was a very circuitous route. My family is from Roxbury, and I went to Northeastern and got my bachelor’s degree. My first job was for Bruce Bolling, the first African-American president of the city council, and he crafted the Boston Residents’ Jobs Ordinance. [for construction projects receiving public funding]. Believe it or not, I really got involved in this through politics. Mayor [Thomas] Menino appointed me to oversee the programs and I did so before joining a non-profit organization, Madison Park Development Corp., and then being recruited to Suffolk. I had known Suffolk through the city’s position and overseen their projects for compliance.

Q: What is the strategy for raising awareness of entry routes into the building trades?
A: We have a strong focus on building a diverse workforce with a number of community groups, creating journeys with apprenticeships such as YouthBuild Boston. We focus on women in the construction trades and have done a great job on Encore Casino. It was the largest project in the Commonwealth and it had a major impact. On the business side for minority and women-owned contractors and general contractors, we have Build With Us @ Suffolk, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. They’re great at what they do, but some of the technical things you have to do they might not understand. It’s really just a way for them to get into the Suffolk environment: what systems we use, how we estimate and buy, and how you get pre-qualified. And then we match them with mentors from Suffolk. It is not just a check transaction.

Q: What are the core elements of the curriculum?
A: The curriculum is developed in-house. We start with safety, which is at the heart of our Suffolk core values, and then move on to risk and project management. And then how Suffolk is really about technology and innovation. We have Suffolk CoLabs which is our innovation center, which teaches how to increase productivity with customers and how you become pre-qualified to work with Suffolk. We also focus on bidding: in particular, don’t bid too low, then you get a job, and the scope becomes too big for a small contractor. I’ve seen subcontractors go bankrupt when they submitted offers that weren’t realistic.

One of the things our team emphasizes is: Give us an offer that is reasonable for the scope of work and the schedule. We are here to support each other. We don’t want them to fall. We want our projects to be completed on time and within budget. Legal and compliance: What are the things we must do under state law? There has been a history in other states, not so much in Boston and Massachusetts, where people are misusing minority and women-owned business designations, and that is being discussed. And we tap into external lenders and resources for minority and women-owned businesses. This is critical, as MBEs can often get the job done, but you need to be well capitalized.

Q: What is the process for a contractor to be pre-qualified to work with Suffolk?
A: We have an online system where the company enters the information, and everything from the amount of your income to the amount of insurance bond you have? Suffolk has a credit committee to decide if the company is qualified to work on a Suffolk project. You don’t want a company bidding on a job that doesn’t have the capacity to do the job.

Q: How do the new diversity requirements imposed by Boston and Massachusetts city agencies for public plots affect the selection of project teams?
A: This creates more demand for minority and women-owned businesses. There was a void in the market for a time, where the town had no focus when Suffolk created [Build With Us @ Suffolk] in 2012, and now for a few years, the whole world seems to be focused on MBEs and their use. We also see this effect in the private sector. It is city and state leadership that is driving demand across all sectors.

Q: How has the Build With Us @ Suffolk program grown in terms of participants since 2012?
A: We’ve had 120 graduates so far in the Massachusetts program and we have another class of eight companies set to graduate this week. And last year we expanded the program to all areas of Suffolk, including New York, California and Florida, and we’re going to do it in Texas.

Woodson’s five favorite restaurants:

  1. Darryl’s Corner Bar & Grill
  2. MIDA
  3. M&M BBQ at the Dorchester Brewery
  4. Slade’s Bar & Grill
  5. Municipality of Suya

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