Executive Director of the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA), Jorge Perez knows that for Hispanic businesses to survive, they must adapt to the future and get a foothold in new marketplaces.
Since its inception in 1979, HACIA, has fought for equitable participation for Hispanics in the construction industry and is eyeing the large number of planned projects in the Chicago area as opportunities for its members.
“We’re trying to forge new marketplaces with utilities, railroads, hospitals and private universities along with large corporations,” said Perez. “One thing that we have been really good at is creating the next generation of design and construction firms, building the base of small Hispanic or minority owned contractors.”
According to Perez, the time is especially ripe for minority owned companies. As examples, he pointed to the city’s recent plans to develop large swaths of property along the Chicago River, potential opportunities to work on the Illinois Tollway and Highway projects, and the growing solar energy construction business.
To help its members, HACIA has created specific programs tailored for the small mom-and-pop businesses as well as the mid-level businesses who may require help landing those contracts.
“There are a lot of small contractors out there and maybe they have a van or a couple of trucks out of their house or their garage, but they may not have the necessary training to get them to grow their businesses,” said Perez. “Yet, they have alot of ganas to succeed!” he added.
The group recently teamed up with St. Augustine College in Aurora to develop a curriculum to train people to work with the Illinois Tollway Authority on heavy highway construction efforts. Perez said 32 small businesses went through the program, which just finished its second year and had a “100 percent” completion rate.
“They went to every class and finished everything, class” said Perez. “We recognize that it’s not an easy commitment for a business owner to make – two times a week from 5 to 9 p.m. after having worked a full day.”
He said that their group has a “good strong base” of firms that are able to meet demand for the projects. The struggle is making sure they are not considered too small. The group’s role is to let the firms know of opportunities for contracts and to help advise them on when strategic partnerships between them could prove to be the difference maker to land the contract.
“We’ve always provided good leadership and we try to be a conduit and be a liaison for them,” said Perez. “With construction, it all depends on what kind of work you do and it depends on what kinds of relationships you have and what types of relationships you want to create.”
Perez said since HACIA was born, its aim was to get its members in front of the right people, offer them an accurate read of the marketplace and letting them know of any opportunities to advance their businesses.
Among the key things they stress to their members is that in order to survive, they must be able to run their enterprises as professionally, effectively and efficiently as they can. Back-office operations are as important as front-office operations.
“We need to be prepared to have the proper accounting system, to do read blue prints and drawings properly, to utilize technology in their businesses and to market their businesses better,” said Perez. “You need to be prepared to have the skills to run your business so you can take advantage.”