Exchange Connects CAA Members With University Circle institutions

Rhonda Crowder

Sometimes small, minority companies just need someone to open a door and make an introduction to those seeking to do business with them. That’s what the recent Construction Assistance Association (CAA) - University Circle Incorporated (UCI) Exchange, held via Zoom provided. UCI is the community service corporation responsible for developing, serving and advocating for University Circle as a vibrant and complete neighborhood without borders. They are working with CAA to expand the partnership. 

CAA have held four Exchanges where they provided one-on-one appointments with owners and associated general contractors to members as well as introduced and provided insight on “how to do business with” and upcoming projects with over 10 owners. This was the second with UCI.

This recent Exchange began with current UCI president Chris Ronayne welcoming everyone and providing insight on their Next Step, Strategies for Business Growth, program which helps Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) firms do business in the circle. In existence since 2014, this seven-month program has graduated an average of 10 small business owners each year.  

It provides business education and networks to help small business owners strengthen their businesses and position themselves for growth through the creation of a strategic growth action plan. In several cases, graduates have gone on to secure business from UCI member institutions.  

“I think this is Ohio’s best hope,” said Ronayne. “It’s about harnessing it.”

CAA has referred several of its members to the NextStep program, including current officers Heather Baines/HRCS, Chris Howse/Howse Solutions, Ariane Kirkpatrick/AKA Team, Michael Ballard /RWJ Wiring and Shakorie Davis/Next Gen, all of whom are graduates of the program.

“We are very interested in continuing to work together to further the development and growth of MBEs and FBEs (Female Business Enterprise),” said Laura Kleinman, who manages Next Step. She explained they are not providing it at the moment but are considering strenghten the partnership with CAA to offer more mentoring and coaching. 

Kleinman went on to speak about the type of services procured by UCI. She said they do own and manage some properties in addition to parkspace. They utilize landscaping services as well. “There are some opportunities,” she said.

Kleinman also said they offer support with Quickbooks and other financial services. 

During the Exchange, the small, minority companies were matched with UCI institutions. The two entities spent time in breakout sessions getting to know each other. 

The event also provides opportunity for representatives from other institutions, outside the Circle, to present their organizations inclusion efforts and opportunities. 

Lenora Lockett, the new Cuyahoga County Department of Equity and Inclusion director, gave an overview of the agency’s recent disparities study and the ways in which they are working to strengthen and improve small, minority, and women businesses. Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) Lisa Washington presented as well. 

“We want to work with you to see what the opportunities might be,” said Washington.   

Other presenters include Mark Lemmon of Campus District, Terrell Knight of Fairfax Development Corporation, Arlene Anderson of MetroHealth and Sean Mc Dermott of Cleveland Metroparks. 

Morgen Cost, president of Cleveland Building Restoration, and Baines, CAA treasurer and president of HR Construction Services each had multiple appointments with UCI institutions. While paired with Joe Ferritto, from Cleveland Institute of Art, Cost explained that her masonry company has done a lot of work in University Circle.  

Ferritto told her, “This is great timing. We’re in the process of applying for warehouse district tax credits to do a restoration project. We would love to include you in the bid packet.” From there, they discuss some possible needs around that specific project then Cost provided some previous work experience. 

One of Baines’ pairs including The Cleveland Art Museum. She found the Exchange to be beneficial. “To at least be able to have an introduction, if nothing else,” she said. 

She appreciates how the Exchanges provide an opportunity to meet an institution's procurement person and each Exchange allows to further develop the relationship. “If something comes up even a year from now, they’ll remember you. Some people have had great outcomes,” said Baines, who as a board member, believes it’s important for CAA to provide members with opportunities to interface with owners and general contractors.

Anderson, senior manager Diversity Solutions at MetroHealth, explained that they are undergoing a diversity initiative across the system examining practices and procedures with employees, patients and supply chain. 

She is responsible for creating and implementing programs where they embed steps that forces them to stop and think about diversity, asking the question, “Have I done my due diligence?”

“We have various partners with respect to diversity and construction, who have provided us with some objectives to consider in regards to MBE and women businesses,” said Anderson.

“CAA is another vehicle in which we can do our outreach and build relationships to help contractors understand how to do business with MetroHealth. And, events like this are another way to connect the dots.” 

Anderson thought it was great having organizations identify their upcoming opportunities. “Information is power. It’s another way for CAA members to get ready,” she said.

She thought the event was fruitful and hopes CAA members got a lot out of sessions as well. “My main objective is to work with CAA,” said Anderson.

Cost said, “The Exchange was definitely beneficial.” She credited Glen Shumate, executive director of CAA, for bringing the right people to the room and preparing contractors ahead of time. Shumate provided them with a list of the companies they would meet.

“Otherwise, they would not have known about my small, minority company,” said Cost, “to show them we are a quality contractor.”

Cost said she’s a patron of the Institute of Art and thinks working together can be a great opportunity for both entities. “I know from attending previous meetings like this, deals do come from them,” she said.

Cost, who has been a member of CAA for at least 2 years and Construction Employers Association, since she started her company five years ago, thinks the Exchange beneficial for CAA members to attend. “I really appreciate the participation from UCI institutions creating a nice opportunity for CAA members to build relationships and grow in ways that might not have been available,” said Cost. 

In a follow up conversation, Kleinman said, “The responses have been positive from both sessions in 2021.  All of the UCI members felt the one-on-one break out sessions were really valuable and several of them scheduled follow up appointments with CAA members, in some cases, to look at specific jobs at their facilities.” 

Kleinman also said UCI members are very interested in expanding their lists of MBE/FBE suppliers and contractors and they do not always know where to look. 

“By partnering, UCI and CAA can work behind the scenes to figure out how to facilitate relevant and meaningful introductions. Our hope is that expanded lists lead to more jobs for CAA member companies.”

She revealed the plan is to launch a program in 2022 that will combine the NextStep curriculum with CAA’s expertise in the construction industry and relationships with industry experts.  

“This program will enable participants to not only develop a growth plan, but will also provide them with on-going coaching and support so that the growth plan goals can be realized and University Circle and other areas can expand their use of diverse contractors and supplies,” said Kleinman. 

CAA will be holding a Contractor Night School program and a chance to meet Justin Bibb in October. Check out for more information.