By Sara Bondell - November 05, 2021
After spending his teen and early adult years in and out of trouble, Shaun Womack decided it was a time for change. Trying to help, his father-in-law gave him a job laying tile, and despite the long hours and hard work, he started to actually like it.
In 2004, Womack opened Versa-Tile & Marble, working with an architect in the Florida Panhandle on high-end homes. The company eventually crossed over into commercial work and relocated to the Tampa Bay area. Working with up to 20 laborers in the field at a time, Womack was doing good work, but as a small minority-owned business he struggled to land large construction jobs.
“The biggest problem is being noticed, meeting insurance requirements and financing a large job,” said Womack. “They don’t know us, but we know if companies give us a chance they would still be doing business with us to this day.”
Now Womack is working on his biggest project to date: Moffitt Cancer Center’s new, $400 million inpatient surgical hospital. Moffitt has committed to a supplier diversity goal of 15% over the span of this project, about $52 million. The project will most likely exceed projections; as of July 2021, almost $32 million has been spent on diverse contracts.
Nearly $10 million in contracts have been awarded to veteran-owned businesses, while more than $9 million will be spent with women-owned vendors and more than $5 million with Black-owned businesses.
“Moffitt’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion ensures that diverse businesses have an opportunity to participate and compete for our procurement opportunities,” said Moffitt Supplier Diversity Manager Desiree Hanson. “As a result, we are creating an economic impact in the communities we serve.”
The cancer center ensures that all businesses, including diverse ones, have a chance to participate in bid opportunities by conducting vendor outreach events to engage and register new vendors and providing the technical assistance needed to teach those businesses how to work with Moffitt.
“We are a leader in supplier diversity, not just cancer care,” said Hanson.
More than ‘checking a box’
The new Moffitt expansion hospital, expected to open in 2023, sits across from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Outpatient Center on McKinley Drive. The scale of the construction project makes this Moffitt’s largest project to date as it relates to supplier diversity and the inclusion of diverse vendors.
Moffitt’s dedication to supplier diversity goes back decades. The program focuses on inclusion of diverse businesses in all procurement processes and is dedicated to the development, growth and utilization of minority, women, veteran and service disabled veteran-owned business enterprises. The center recently updated its diversity categories to also include LGBTQ and disability-owned businesses.
To meet its diversity goals, Moffitt teamed up with two Tampa-based firms: Barr & Barr Inc., a 94-year-old general contractor, and Black-owned Horus Construction Services Inc.
When Fred Hames, director of operations for Barr & Barr, moved from Atlanta to Tampa in 1998, he saw the need for increased supplier diversity in the area. He could have easily started using the same minority-owned businesses he worked with in Atlanta, but how would that benefit his new community?
“As a large general contractor, there’s a certain level of obligation that we have for diversity, and someone’s got to start it,” said Hames. “Someone’s got to take the leap, because when everybody sees the impact then it will catch and gain momentum.”
Hames took that leap by building a relationship with Jonathan Graham, who was working as a subcontractor at the time. When Hames won the bid for the Tampa Museum of Art, he noticed there was no diversity requirement and approached Graham with the idea to partner on the project. He suggested that Graham open his own construction management business to help with supplier diversity. From there, Graham’s Horus Construction Services was born.
“Diversity is about leadership and what leaders really want in their corporate mentality and their heart,” said Graham. “I have learned that 5% of the people in this world are leaders and 95% are followers that will do what they’re pushed to do. So, if the leaders say they understand diversity, others can look at them for guidance.”
The City of Tampa embraced what Hames and Graham were trying to accomplish, and a few years later the pair began working on projects at Moffitt.
“When you look at what we were doing at Moffitt and the level of complexity in the risk of a bone marrow transplant unit and vertical expansions and horizontal expansions, all that stuff we were doing intimidates small diversity firms,” said Hames. “They don’t want to do it because of the risk associated with it.”
Working together, Barr & Barr, Horus and Moffitt found ways to attract smaller businesses to the cancer center’s projects. It starts with community outreach events, then a review team scores project bids on diversity. Once a business is awarded a project, the group continues to educate and mentor the team throughout the entire project, and the construction companies assume small businesses’ insurance and risk liabilities.
“We could just check a box and hire someone because they’re Black or a woman or Latino/Hispanic and say, ‘OK, I guess we checked that box,’” said Graham. “But the leadership here is not like that. We are not only saying we are giving you the job opportunity, but we are going to go over the fine points, take the time necessary to make sure you are successful.”
Shaun Womack’s crew is doing all the hard tile for the project, which includes bathrooms and the first-floor café. And thanks to the Barr & Barr/Horus Mentor Protégé Program, he and his team will be learning many more skills along the way.
“Shaun has been in the business for a very long time and his quality of work is very good,” said Graham. “Normally, he wouldn’t have had this opportunity, but we wanted him to work on the project because he is going to be an asset.”
Graham has given Womack an office right next to his on the site so he can monitor the work and help Womack grow. As the managing partner, Barr & Barr steps up to bond the entire project so the smaller companies don’t have to. Laborers are also given invaluable education, such as infectious control and lifesaving training — all skills they can take to other job sites in the future.
“This is a sign of stability for my workers,” said Womack. “Construction is really up and down, but to build a project like this for a long period of time gives you a chance to gain momentum and we are going to be teaching them so much.”
“My goal is to hold tight to these relationships,” he added. “I am going to do everything I can on my part not to mess up and perform to the highest level.”
Doing good work on this project also makes Barr & Barr more likely to hire the company again for future projects and opens the door for other jobs.
“Projects like this create opportunities for these businesses to grow, gain health care experience and build capacity,” said Hanson. “They have now worked on a $400 million health care project and can reflect their participation in resume as they pursue future bid opportunities.”
“A good diversity program does not cost the project any more money. It saves the project money because it brings participation and subcontractors to the table that traditionally would not be there,” Hames added. “Now is it harder? It’s a lot harder because you have to sit with those firms, explain to them what’s going on, but is it worth it? It’s so worth it.”
No business owner nor worker is left on their own throughout the project. There are monthly supplier diversity meetings with the entire construction team to make sure things are running smoothly and to troubleshoot any problems.
“Whenever I visit the new hospital and see the workers, I quickly notice the pride on their faces,” said Hanson. “As you look around the job site you see diversity at work. Large and small businesses, workers from all cultures and backgrounds working together and sharing in our mission.”
‘This is not just talk’
The entire Mentor Protégé Program has been so inspiring to Womack that he has started his own nonprofit program that teaches at-risk boys a trade.
“For them to see me and how far I have come and know all you have to do is work hard,” said Womack. “Someone may only have a sixth-grade education, but they are good with their hands and they’re leaders, that’s all it takes.”
Womack loves telling the kids about his newest project and how he is laying all the hard tile for a 10-story, $400 million hospital. About how his past does not dictate his present. And about how supplier diversity efforts can impact thousands of workers and the local community.
“This is not just talk or a label,” said Womack. “Moffitt is really trying to help out.”