Chapter Celebrates First Graduating Class of AGC Prime Time Series

Written by  Kristen Smith

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Sharon Douglas (Potere Construction) discusses lessons learned at the Prime Time Capstone Class and Graduation. “I define success by the people around me,” said Douglas. AGC, TxDOT, my sorority. Not just my staff—this is my life.” Douglas went on to encourage the graduates to really network. “If you haven’t joined AGC yet, today is your day. And don’t forget who you were in this class with,” noting that she attended a similar course with Nathali Parker (KLP Commercial), seated to her right. Joining them in the panel are TxDOT’s Civil Rights Director Michael Bryant, Danette Shelton (Roadway Specialties), and Meg Lisenby (Pipe Wholesalers).

As Babby Posey of Posey Construction & Development exited TxDOT Houston District’s classroom, she remarked, “I never realized prime contractors would share this kind of information with subcontractors. Or this much.”

Posey is one of sixteen subcontractors selected to take part in AGC’s Prime Time Series, an advanced course designed to increase DBE capacity in the TxDOT market. The series was two years in the making. The first series concluded with a graduation ceremony October 23 in Houston.

“What piqued my interest the most and got me excited was the overall level of commitment the prime contractors really put into this. It’s huge,” said Rita Phillip, business diversity and development officer for Zachry Construction Corporation. “Prime Time has really set the bar for other resource groups and agencies. When I say huge, I don’t know what other word to use. There is nothing similar. And I have participated in a ton of these things.”

Angela Berry Roberson, director of diversity and contract compliance for Ferrovial Agroman, agrees.

“I don’t think people really know the issues we have to deal with in the highway construction program. I was struggling, and I called Bob [Lanham, Williams Brothers]. I said, “you have to help me understand. Even [outreach initiatives] from TxDOT and other owners, they’re just teaching how to do business with them. Eighty-five percent of TxDOT projects are held by AGC members. That’s who you need to learn to do business with.”

With the recent expansion of the highway letting, the limited number of ready, willing and able DBEs faced further strain. With over 5,000 registered DBE subcontractors in Texas, less than ten percent actively work for TxDOT.

A work group was formed to craft a contractor-led program that would integrate with TxDOT resources for those DBEs ready to take on advance coursework. DBE Committee Chairman Tracey Aping (Williams Brothers) led the effort.

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DBE Committee Chairman Tracey Aping (Williams Brothers Construction) welcomes guests to the Capstone Class and graduation reception, held October 23 at the Westin Galleria Monarch Room. The event brought together over 70 people, including AGC officers, TxDOT leadership, prime contractors, and Prime Time graduates and their families to recognize all of the efforts in making Prime Time Series a success.

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Attendees listen to the personal stories of struggle and success of the four DBE members participating in the lessons learned panel discussion.

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Marc Williams spoke of the strong partnership AGC and with TxDOT, and the value of membership for the Prime Time graduates. “Knowledge is power,” he said. “That’s who and what you know. Stay involved in AGC.”

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Subcontractors attending the Prime Time class listen to Martha Arnold, TxDOT, who provided an overview of the services and assistance that TxDOT Civil Rights Division can provide.

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Houston District Engineer Quincy Allen focused remarks on those graduating from the program, providing his priorities for the Houston District. “We believe in doing the right thing. We appreciate people who show up on time and ready to work. And we believe that the bad news should travel first.”

TxDOT Civil Rights Director Michael Bryant, co-chair of the TxDOT/ AGC DBE Committee, assisted the work group.

The work group, comprised of Aping, Phillip, and Berry Roberson, crafted a course with the following priorities:

• The program must target businesses at similar stages in development.

• AGC prime contractors must run the program and work directly with subcontractors.

• The program must feed into AGC membership.

Aping, Berry Roberson, and Phillip designed Prime Time for subcontractors with 3-5 years of heavy civil experience seeking to enter or expand operations with TxDOT. They created a survey and distributed it to consultants and minority associations statewide, producing over 200 applications.

The work group reviewed all applications and personally contacted those who met qualifications. Tuition for the program was $500, all of which would go towards the company’s first year AGC dues.

As the group finalized its priorities, Houston District Engineer Quincy Allen and his staff contacted Aping, seeking support in the creation of an outreach event in advance of several large Houston District projects. The district and AGC coordinated the two concepts and developed an event in early May 2018. The concept of Prime Time was introduced at that time.

Allen served as a valuable catalyst for the program launch and offered full support in its creation. All ten courses were held at Houston District Headquarters.

TxDOT support did not end there. Marc Williams, deputy executive director, called a meeting with Aping, Berry Roberson, AGC DBE member Sharon Douglas (Potere Construction), Executive Director James Bass, Chief Engineer Bill Hale, and Civil Rights Director Michael Bryant to discuss the need for increased DBE capacity and how TxDOT could best achieve this goal. TxDOT Administration committed to support the program and monitor its effectiveness.

The first graduating class consisted of 16 companies, all of whom perform work in the Houston District. AGC expects to replicate Prime Time in other metro areas in 2019 as it continues to refine and expand the program. Cycle time will be determined based on demand.

AGC members taught virtually all classes, covering concepts on bidding and estimating, the TxDOT Spec Book, insurance, change orders, TxDOT reporting systems, contract management and more.

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Joseph Wilson of Zachry takes a time out from his presentation on Change Orders so attendees could catch updates on the Astros Game on October 16.

Mike Landen’s (Austin Bridge & Road) course launched the series Joseph Wilson of Zachry takes a time out from his presentation on Change Orders so attendees could catch updates on the Astros Game on October 16. on September 11 with a bidding and estimating class. Landen also teaches a course at Oklahoma University in construction science and used similar content. Landen, with contracting experience in several states, noted that TxDOT’s website is peerless.

“There is no better DOT site than TxDOT’s website,” he said. “There is a LOT of info.”

Landen covered concepts related to plans, pre- and post-letting information, bidders’ lists, unit prices, the difference between unit price vs. lump sum and the risks inherent in each, bidding margins, where to add profit, mobilizations, as more—including valuable business advice.

“If you want to be successful, the key is bidding the right project as opposed to bidding a lot of projects. Find the project that fits you well,” he cautioned.

Landen also suggested sending a quote prior to bid day without prices so that a prime can advise on the structure of the bid and provide corrections where needed.

“I’d prefer that, actually,” he said. Bob Lanham of Williams Brothers presented a course on TxDOT specs and standards.

Lanham highlighted a few other concerns before getting into the course content. “The biggest mistake I see with subcontractors is not understanding your true costs,” he said. “And cell phones are going to kill more people than anything else.”

Lanham also discussed the role AGC has had in his own professional development.

“AGC is like a university. It teaches you to be a better contractor. It makes you a better business person. Meeting with other contractors, coming to a consensus. The other part is the networking.

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Rob Harrison of McGriff, Seibels & Williams review insurance policies for heavy highway subcontractors.

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Joanne Brooks (JSSB Consulting) discusses common reasons for failure, citing taking on too much work and pursuing “lifestyle” versus “legacy” priorities.

The friendships I’ve made over the years. It’s a family.

“AGC was started by Woodrow Wilson in response to union influence. Business owners were going broke negotiating with unions. AGC served as a collective negotiating power for small businesses.

“It’s hard for us to see what’s coming. AGC helps with political involvement. It helps us see what’s around the corner.”

Surety expert, Joanne Brooks, Esq., of JSSB Consulting, told the group there is a marked difference between what she refers to as “lifestyle” versus “legacy” companies. The lifestyle companies use their profits to secure comfort and material items, but the legacy companies put everything back into their businesses. That, she explains, is what is needed to last in this industry.

Jeff Gibson of Gibson & Associates put it another way. “This industry has given me more than I could’ve ever imagined. But it takes, too. It has taken years off my life. It has taken time away from my family. The stress takes a huge toll. But this isn’t what I do. This is what I am. We can get into a conversation about whether or not it’s healthy, but those are the facts.”

Gibson led a course called “After the Award.” He stressed the single most important resource in a company is its safety culture. It’s not a revenue generator, but it can cost huge.

John Rempe of Balfour Beatty also spent a portion of his Contract Management presentation to reinforce this mantra.

“Safety over time is a leading, key indicator of overall management,” he declared. If a company has a poor safety record, there are always problems with quality, production, scheduling, and more. He cautioned owners to understand that it’s often the most seasoned workers who take the largest risks, because they have a lifetime of reinforced behavior that tells them “I got away with that.”

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Josh Goyne (Webber) reviews self-perform operations during his September 27 presentation. “It is extremely important to us that you succeed,” he said.

Josh Goyne (Webber) opened his presentation on Self- Perform Operations with the importance of subcontractor success. “We have one project that’s over 50 percent subcontracted. It’s extremely important to us that you succeed.”

Stella Vargas of Webber reiterated this point. “That’s why we are so committed to this class. We need growth. And we’re not seeing it.”

The 16 Prime Time subcontractors attended every Tuesday and Thursday for a total of ten classes. All finished the course.

On October 23, Chairman Aping welcomed the graduating class and their families along with the course presenters, TxDOT, and local and statewide leadership to congratulate all participants in successful conclusion of the course.

The event also featured a capstone class on “Lessons Learned,” led by a panel of four AGC DBE members—many of whom completed a similar AGC course offered in 2014. Sharon Douglas of Potere Construction, Nathali Parker of KLP Commercial, AGC Board Member Danette Shelton of Roadway Specialties and Meg Lisenby of Pipe Wholesalers, were moderated by TxDOT Civil Rights Director Michael Bryant.

Bryant opened the session by noting the rarity of a heavy highway panel composed entirely of women. His first question: How do you sell yourself?

Parker responded by advising against leading with your DBE certification. “It’s great that you’re a DBE but what else are you bringing to the table? Start with that.”

Parker also discussed the personal sacrifices you must make in order to grow a business in this industry. “Your employees will eat first,” she said.

But that is also her definition of professional success. “We are feeding families. We are creating a culture where people can grow, have babies.”

Meg Lisenby discussed hard lessons learned. “You’ll hear no more than yes,” she cautioned.

The graduation reception had a forward-thinking attitude. There was repeated reinforcement of the fact that the Texas highway heavy industry works together, and better than anywhere else in the nation.

“A rising tide raises all boats,” said Chairman Aping as she opened the reception.

President Chad Clark reiterated Aping’s comments. “This cannot be the last time you engage with AGC. This graduation is not a conclusion; it’s a beginning,” he said.

At the November Board of Directors Meeting, President Clark read aloud the incoming applications for General Membership. Among them was TexasChile, a Prime Time Graduate.

The application received a round of applause from the board.



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