Colorado aims to hire minority contractors for stimulus projects
DENVER – Lalit Mehra was hoping to keep his fledgling Denver sandblasting company alive with work paid by federal economic stimulus money. But even after attending a Colorado seminar on how to receive stimulus grants, Mehra says he’s had to lay off half his staff in the last three months and isn’t hopeful he’ll ever see stimulus work.”It’s just a hoax,” he said of the stimulus promises. “I’m not expecting much out of it.”Colorado moved Thursday to address complaints from minority-owned contracting firms that they’re not seeing a boost from stimulus spending. The state announced the hire of what is thought to be the nation’s first minority outreach coordinator charged solely with making sure minorities and women know about stimulus opportunities.The outreach coordinator, Maranda Pleau, is the first of her kind, according to the Chicago-based African-American Contractors Association, a national trade group. She will start later this month. Her salary wasn’t announced.”That’s the first time I’ve heard of that,” said the association’s president, Omar Shareef. “I’m getting calls all the time about this. They say there’s stimulus money for minority contractors, but everybody is like three blind mice running around in the dark trying to find where all the stimulus money is.”Colorado’s Department of Transportation received a formal complaint this spring about contracting and minority-owned firms from Hamon Contractors Inc., which lost a transportation bid. In response, the department is setting up its own oversight board to better review how stimulus projects are meeting goals for minority participation.A lawyer for the contractor, Seth Firmender, said Thursday that Hamon’s owners were satisfied with Colorado’s response. The lawyer thanked a state stimulus oversight panel after the outreach efforts were announced.The plans also won praise from the Hispanic Contractors of Colorado. The group’s executive director, Helga Grunerud, told board members Thursday that minority contractors are “delighted” with the outreach effort.”We’ve been watching the process and were somewhat concerned” about state contracts falling short of minority participation goals, which vary from place to place within the state, she said. Now, Grunerud said, “we believe we’ve been heard.”One contractor who did not attend the meeting was Harrison Williams, owner of H&D Trucking in Denver. Williams, who is black, has three employees and said business has slowed and he hasn’t seen any government work yet. But Williams said he was optimistic the stimulus would create jobs for his company, which hauls construction debris such as asphalt from work sites.”I believe it will happen. But everything moves slow, you know, it’s not happening overnight,” Williams said.Mehra conceded that his company, Quality Linings & Painting Inc., would keep trying for stimulus-funded work.”My optimism is guarded, but we need the work,” Mehra said.Also Thursday, Colorado announced its first tally of how much stimulus money has come to the state so far. The tally includes $125 million in one-time awards of $250 to the state’s 500,000 Social Security recipients.Colorado has also received $71.2 million in increased Medicaid funding from the federal government, plus $16.6 million to boost unemployment benefits by $25 a week.So far, six highway projects are underway using a total of $22.5 in stimulus funds. State officials say more construction spending, from airport renovations to wastewater treatment improvements, will be underway by the fall.___On the Net:http://www.colorado.gov/recovery
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