<p>Over here are small subcontracting companies owned by women and minorities. Over there are a dozen New England general contractors who do business regularly with Brown University. Brown introduced the two groups on Wednesday, Feb. 16, in Davol Square at the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.</p>

Twelve general contracting companies that regularly work on Brown University projects took part in a unique vendor fair Wednesday morning, Feb. 16, 2011. The fair — “Exploring Networking Opportunities for Women and Minority Owned Businesses” — brought women and minority owners and subcontractors in the trade fields together with potential employers at the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RI-CIE).

Organized by Brown’s Vendor Supplier Task Force for Women and Minority Owned Businesses, this event was the first of its kind for Brown. According to Justin Aubochon of Bond Brothers, “It’s nice to attend an event singularly designed for general contractors to meet subcontractors, especially [women and minority] subcontractors. I work with a lot of other universities and this is the first time I’ve seen a university do an event designed for this purpose.”

The fair provided contractors and subcontractors with a chance to meet, converse , and learn about job opportunities. Ron Simoneau, project executive from Shawmut Design and Construction, summed up the excitement of the event: “It’s been great. I met representatives from a lot of great companies I can put to work almost immediately.”

By all accounts, the event was a great success, both in terms of attendance numbers and connections made. Ted Butler, senior project manager of Suffolk Construction, was pleasantly surprised by how many people attended: “I thought I brought more than enough business cards, but I almost ran out. We were overwhelmed by the response.” All around the room people were exchanging contact information, talking about how they could work together, and setting dates to reconnect. Paul Tierne of Gilbane Building Company noted, “This event has opened new doors for subcontractors and Gilbane.”

Charles Newton, from the state’s Minority Business Enterprise Compliance Office and a member of Brown’s task, force said he was “really pleased with the event. We had a tremendous turnout. … The Brown-related general contractors were happy to meet with subcontractors in a low-pressure atmosphere. I applaud Brown for doing this.”

A common thread among the comments made by the general contractors was that it was good to meet new people in the industry, especially from smaller businesses that may not have the money to advertise widely. Richard Drury, director of procurement for New England Construction, said, “Everybody knows who the larger subcontractors are. They can advertise. Smaller companies can’t afford to do that. This is a perfect forum to meet them. Events like this give us a chance to meet face-to-face and shake hands, as well as tell them about what we do.”

Chris Manlove, project manager for Site Specific, echoed that: “Any time we can meet new subcontractors it’s positive. This is a small state. It’s easy to continue using the same subcontractors, but it’s good to expand your subcontractor base.” His colleague, John Pignaturo added, “The Brown name elicits a great response from the construction community. It’s nice that this event connected us to a group of subcontractors we wouldn’t have had a connection to otherwise.”

The subcontractors attending the event shared the general contractors’ enthusiasm. Wally Akinkuowo, of Providence’s Legacy Cleaning, left the event feeling optimistic about working at Brown. Akinkuowo, originally from Nigeria, said, “Love it. You’re exposing me to construction work. I’d love to work for Brown. There is a lot of diversity there.” Carole Souza, president and CEO of Federal Floor Inc., who came from Pelham, N.H., for the event, enjoyed the networking opportunity.

In her opening remarks, Wendy McRae-Owoeye, director of staff diversity and University EEO/AA officer at Brown, welcomed the participants and attendees and described the membership of the Vendor Supplier Task Force for Women and Minority Owned Businesses, which includes representatives from administrative departments across the Brown campus. Also speaking were Paul Dietel, director of project management, and Michael Guglielmo, assistant director of project management for Facilities Management.

The 12 general contractors in attendance were Bond Brothers, Chapel Building Corporation, Coletta’s Contracting, Consigli Construction, Dimeo Construction, Gilbane Building Company, H.V. Collins Company Inc., New England Construction, Shawmut Design and Construction, Site Specific, Suffolk Construction, and Trac Builders.