SURE Mechanical: An Economic Inclusion Success Story
Uptown Consortium, Inc.
In 2011, Chukwuma “Chuma” Ekwueme fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur when he founded SURE Mechanical, a certified minority-owned mechanical firm located in Cincinnati that provides HVAC/Mechanical design, fabrication and installation services for educational, government and private organizations.
SURE Mechanical recently achieved a huge milestone by winning a multimillion-dollar mechanical contract package for the Digital Futures building in the Uptown Innovation Corridor in the Cincinnati Innovation District. This is the largest single contract the company has ever bid for without a larger majority partner.
SURE Mechanical’s success story is the latest example of many economic inclusion success stories from the development project at MLK and Reading Road. It is the result of long-term, planned groundwork and strategic collaboration between many partners that started years ago.
Uptown Consortium, Inc.’s Long-Term Approach
In 2015, Uptown Consortium, Inc. (UCI) engaged WEB Ventures LLC (WEB), strategic management and diversity and inclusion consultants, to develop a long-term economic inclusion framework and to lead UCI’s inclusion efforts. From the Corridor’s initial planning stages, UCI worked with the community to involve residents in decisions affecting the future of their neighborhood. Establishing a robust economic inclusion initiative was the next step to proactively ensure that existing residents benefit from and grow with the new development.
“The goal of our economic inclusion initiatives is to increase contracting and investing opportunities for local minority- and women-owned businesses and to improve the financial health and quality of life for Uptown residents,” said Beth Robinson, President and CEO of UCI.
Contrary to many development-focused inclusion efforts, UCI’s approach to inclusion isn’t about checking boxes and moving on—it’s a commitment to the community and its residents. That’s why UCI, in conjunction with WEB, developed a unique long-term approach to inclusion beginning with pre-construction professional services and extending to investment, construction, tenant selection, staffing, and annuity professional services (e.g., landscaping) throughout the life of the development. The approach provides new opportunities for small and large minority business enterprises (MBE) and women business enterprises (WBE).
WEB Ventures and SURE Mechanical
When WEB Ventures started working with UCI in 2015, SURE Mechanical was one of the first companies WEB vetted to assess capabilities for future Uptown projects. “WEB has been coaching Chuma and helped the company win business at local health systems,” explained Howard Elliott, one of WEB’s partners who works closely with Ekwueme. “As SURE Mechanical won contracts, they gained a reputation for doing excellent work. This helped SURE Mechanical gain a consistent growth and a base of healthcare customers during SURE Mechanical’s initial years in business.”
A few months ago, the $2.2 million HVAC contract for the Digital Futures Building came up for bid. WEB saw an opportunity for SURE Mechanical to grow significantly and encouraged SURE Mechanical to bid on the contract as the prime contractor. Often, minority contractors like SURE Mechanical get stalled at a certain level of business growth because they get pigeon-holed to smaller contracts. WEB ensured that SURE Mechanical had the capability and the workforce to handle the Digital Futures building contract.
As a result, WEB Ventures, the Messer team, and the Terrex team all agreed to award SURE Mechanical the contract based on the competitive bid they submitted. SURE Mechanical has already begun installing the HVAC system at the Digital Futures Building.
“The Uptown Gateway Project is a huge game changer for SURE Mechanical because minority owned subcontractors in a specialty trade like HVAC typically minority subcontracting firms don’t get huge opportunities like this in a high profile, pioneering project like Uptown Gateway,” Ekwueme said. “The sheer volume of the project gave us the opportunity to grow our workforce and hire folks from the underlining communities.”
A Commitment to MBE, WBE and Resident Inclusion
All developers who work with UCI in the Corridor sign Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) including ongoing goals for MBE, WBE and Uptown resident inclusion. To consistently reach these goals, UCI engaged WEB to identify and grow regional MBEs and WBEs and connect the companies with bidding opportunities and contractors for their workforce needs on Uptown projects. WEB also works to leverage existing workforce development programs or create new ones to prepare Uptown residents for future employment opportunities within the Corridor.
Construction for the Digital Futures Complex, led by Terrex Development and Messer Construction, began in 2019. The pre-construction and much of the construction phase of the project have been completed and to date, the project is on track to exceed the CBA goals. As of September 30, 2021, Terrex and Messer have achieved 24.1% MBE inclusion and 17.9% WBE inclusion for a combined total of 42% MBE/WBE inclusion, which represents $21.6 million spent with minority and women-owned companies to date. UCI, WEB, Terrex, and Messer continue working to meet inclusion goals across all areas of development to further UCI’s long-term approach.
A Proven Economic Inclusion Model
SURE Mechanical’s success story is one of many economic inclusion success stories from the project and is the result of a planned groundwork—Uptown Consortium’s vision for breakthrough economic inclusion on projects, the hiring of WEB Ventures, the implementation of a CBA, and the subsequent building of trust and collaboration through months of economic inclusion meetings with Terrex, Messer, and WEB Ventures.
“We’re so proud of the work the entire team is accomplishing and to see SURE Mechanical reach a contract of this level is fantastic,” Robinson said. “This collaboration with our community partners and WEB is working.
For more information about UCI’s inclusion work, please visit the website.
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