February 2, 2023 Sturgeon Electric embraces diverse vendor utilization program on Denver International Airport project
Denver mayor Michael B. Hancock thanks Sturgeon Electric for Its efforts, positive impact on state’s small businesses
A small group of electricians sat down for an initial meeting.
There was plenty to talk about, but Darnell Brown entered the sit-down feeling skeptical. He accepted the meeting based on the recommendation of a union contact he knew from back in the day, but it had been 25 years since Brown was last involved with a union contractor.
How much had really changed?
On the other side of the table were representatives from Sturgeon Electric, eager to learn more about Brown and his small electrical business – III D Electric – which had the potential to become another strong trade partner for the company.
Sturgeon Electric has a long history working with Denver International Airport (DEN), from runway lighting and baggage claim systems to more recent expansions of the airport’s concourses. One of the unique opportunities associated with working at DEN is the ability to collaborate alongside small, disadvantaged, minority, or women-owned businesses – a requirement set by the city and county of Denver for government-related contracts.
Denver’s diverse vendor utilization program seeks to provide opportunities for these certified businesses in Colorado to win and perform contracts they otherwise wouldn’t be able to compete for. Performing work alongside larger companies like Sturgeon Electric also provides them with mentorship opportunities.
This is where Brown’s skepticism crept in for this meeting in 2020. Was Sturgeon Electric actually interested in helping his business grow and develop or was the company simply meeting a state requirement?
“I thought it would be a situation where Sturgeon needed me to get their quotas done and meet the state’s requirements,” Brown admits from his office two years after that first meeting. “But it never was that way. All of the people I worked with at Sturgeon were exactly who I met at the first meeting. They never belittled me, they never put me in a position to fail. They did nothing but genuinely help me.”
Brown enthusiastically describes all the ways in which Sturgeon Electric helped him grow his business and develop his individual skills as a business owner over the past two years, from how to best bid a job and estimate it to billing in cycles and accurately calculating a project’s progress.
Brown’s small electrical business has been around since 2001, mostly working in the restaurant space, but grew from six employees to 16 before settling at nine since taking on work at DEN as a trade partner of Sturgeon Electric.
“Honestly, being a minority contractor, I really didn’t think it would be the kind of relationship that it is,” Brown said. “I couldn’t at first understand how Sturgeon really did want to pull in minority companies, small businesses and teach them how to become good contractors. I just didn’t think it was going to be that way, but that’s exactly what it is.”
Brown and III D Electric are just one of many trade partners Sturgeon Electric work closely with on the DEN concourse expansion projects and others, relationships the company places tremendous pride and value in creating, maintaining, and growing.
Bryce Perkins, vice president of Sturgeon Electric’s Colorado Commercial and Industrial (C&I) division, sees the diverse vendor utilization program as far more than a requirement. For him, it’s an opportunity to help Sturgeon Electric as a business make a significant, positive impact on the state’s electrical industry.
These trade partners often specialize in scopes of work Sturgeon Electric doesn’t such as mechanical work, which longtime partner Solutions Mechanical has performed after the two companies formed a relationship through the program. And thanks in part to Sturgeon Electric’s willing mentorship, Solutions Mechanical grew its business to include an electrical division after gaining additional work and experience in partnership with Sturgeon Electric.
“The partnership has been fantastic for us because when we have an opportunity for work, we can blend our skills together. Many of these businesses have areas they do really well,” Perkins said. “Together, we can carry the entire project and go after those opportunities. We know we have a proven relationship and can partner up and go after this work together. I think it’s a reciprocal relationship from a business standpoint.”
Sturgeon Electric’s commitment to working with disadvantaged trade partners includes hosting outreach events for local vendors who meet certain criteria such as a Diverse Business Enterprise (DBE), Minority/Women Business Enterprise (MWBE), Small Business Enterprise (SBE), and Emerging Business Enterprise (EBE).
In fact, Sturgeon Electric’s embrace of the program stood out so much that Denver mayor Michael B. Hancock wrote a letter thanking the company on behalf of the city and county of Denver.
“We certainly were not expecting that,” Perkins said. “It was exciting and rewarding for all the effort we’ve put it to make this program work well.”
Working closely with each diverse vendor partner, Sturgeon Electric provides guidance and mentorship to help smaller businesses continue developing skills and enhancing their capabilities. Sturgeon Electric helps these diverse vendors learn more about areas such as project management, billing and invoicing, and other critical aspects of the construction process on larger projects like the work at DEN.
“When the request was made, Sturgeon Electric came together to brainstorm ideas on how it could be accomplished,” Operations Manager Norberto Cruz said, having served as Sturgeon Electric’s senior project manager on the DEN project. “When we thought about it, it was about managing risk, however, ensuring everybody’s success.”
Sturgeon Electric set up a specific project manager and superintendent to work with their disadvantaged trade partners, with another team set up to manage its scope of work, all housed under one senior leader for the projects as a whole.
And while there was a dedicated support system internally for the disadvantaged trade partners, everything toward the project was handled as one.
“Sturgeon Electric’s success was dependent upon the success of others. If they failed, we failed,” Cruz said. “Helping people succeed is what sets you apart from other companies who don’t help guide, provide direction, or promote growth.”
For disadvantaged businesses, one of the requirements of the program is to be below an annual revenue of $15 million per year. So, no one company could take on too much of the work or they’d risk breaking that ceiling. At the same time, they couldn’t take on more work than their workforce or experience would allow.
But that was the beauty of partnering with Sturgeon Electric. They always communicated and Brown found the support he needed to learn and develop. His businesses developed key aspects like improving safety and paperwork.
Any notion of skepticism Brown felt at the beginning is now long gone.
“This program was by far the best thing that could happen to any small business simply because this program is teaching smaller contractors – that have no idea how to do work like that – how to grow the business and start doing the work,” he said. “We may not be able to go out there and bid on a $50 million project, but we can definitely bid on a $2 million contract. I’ve built those capabilities.
“If you’re interested in growing your company and making your company better, hands down this would be a smart decision.”