In a unique effort to establish a sustainable minority contracting community in St. Louis, the Regional Union Construction Center (RUCC) developed an 11-member board of directors, named an executive director, implemented a funding plan, found a location, reviewed qualifications submitted by more than a dozen minority contractors, and then chose four participants — all in less than a year. The mission of the nonprofit incubator, established by PRIDE of St. Louis, Inc., the area's construction labor-management organization, is to help minority owners of union construction companies that have shown the desire to grow their businesses and are interested in a structured program to learn improved methods of operating a business.

“We're sort of a work in progress,” says Alan Richter, RUCC's executive director. “We're not sure how long companies are going to need us, or how it's going to progress in terms of activities.”

However, Richter does know that participants will receive an assessment of their business operation, a tailored training and educational program, and one-on-one counseling, as well as being able to consult a three- to five-person advisory board, made up of an attorney or other legal professional, an accountant or other financial professional, a professional from the risk-management side of construction for bonding and insurance issues, possibly a construction professional for general guidance, and Richter, the executive director.

“We primarily will provide overriding business sense,” Richter says. “One of the prerequisites of the program is prior knowledge of some niche of construction. We might be able to fine-tune things in that area, but we can't teach construction. Business is the prime emphasis.”

As former regional director of the St. Louis Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Richter hopes to model this new program after a success story from his former organization. Four years ago, minority electrical contractor Marion Hayes III, owner of BRK Electrical Contractors LLC and now a current RUCC board member, approached SBDC, asking for help for his business. Despite a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's in construction management — as well as years of experience working as an electrician for some of the largest electrical contractors in the St. Louis area — Hayes was struggling to get his company up and running. SBDC helped him incorporate and fine-tune his business plan, as well as find resources for his company.

“An advisory board still meets with him every two months,” Richter says. “He's doing quite nicely, but he still finds that advisory board to be of value.”

Minority contractors interested in participating in the RUCC program may submit an AIA form, or contractor's qualification statement, to the organization at any time during the year. As of yet, there is no maximum number of participants or a specific number of months or years that a contractor can participate in the program. The estimated cost to run the program — $500,000 a year — will be covered by contributions from trade unions and stakeholders in the St. Louis union construction industry.