Business Opportunities in the Business Sector Workshop at Monona Terrace
Partnering in tough economic times
By Jonathan Gramling

      When the Wis. Dept. of Administration rolled out its biennial Business Opportunities in the government
Sector (BOGS) Workshop, it had a lot of heavy hitters in the construction field in attendance including J.H.
Findorff and J.P. Cullen. While the recession is hitting most sectors of the economy pretty hard, the
construction field has been aided by continued government spending on construction projects, fueled, in
part, by the federal economic stimulus.
      “We had a lot of large contractors such as C.G. Schmidt,” said Godwin Amegashie, assistant
administrator of DOA’s State Facilities Procurement. “They are the new construction manager at the new
Union South that is being developed on campus. That is almost an $80 million project. One of the reason
many of these firms came to BOGS was the local minority firms that they can put on their team. This
conference is taking place right on the eve of a major construction project that is going to be bid tomorrow.
The Chazen Museum is expanding. That’s a $34 million project. So there is quite a bit of economic activity
that is generated in this city by state government. Our hope really is to make sure the businesses, especially
the small businesses, get plugged into all of this opportunity.”
      One of Amegashie’s responsibilities is to monitor and facilitate companies in utilizing minority business
enterprises (MBEs) in their state construction projects. The state has a goal of five percent. In order to
Clockwise from upper left: Commerce’s E. Aggo Akyea (l) and Ranjit Chaskravorti of TRS Consultants; Jeff
Niesen (far right) and representatives from Boldt Construction; Godwin Amegashie (r) and Seaphes Miller of
HiTech Integrated Solutions LLC; Aby Gutierrez of Milwaukee Ironworks LLC; Mathew Tharaniyil (l-r), Eugene
Johnson, Reggie Newson, Ruben Anthony and Ugo Nwagbarocha
accomplish this, Amegashie has encouraged prime contractors to mentor MBEs so they can make it to the next level in their business growth while also ensuring
they can meet their MBE goal.
      A case in point was when Boldt Construction formed a business partnership with Milwaukee Ironworks LLC. Over the course of a three-year relationship,
Milwaukee Ironwork’s subcontracts with Boldt grew from $400,000 to $4.5 million. The relationship met the needs of both companies. “The goal is really to find
MBE subcontractors that we can work with and will do a good job for us, said Jeff Niesen, a Boldt vice president. “We need them to come in competitive with
their original pricing, which Aby Gutierrez did in this case. He was somewhat of an unknown, so we started with a relatively small contract.”
For Gutierrez, president of Milwaukee Ironworks, it was a God-send that allowed him to get to the next level. “We were stuck at a plateau where we were doing $2
million in sales per year,” Gutierrez said. “We had no bonding capacity and we didn’t have enough funds to proceed into the bigger stuff. The way it helped us
was it helped us with the funding because we got paid on time. It built our capacity. We are able to acquire bonding now where we weren’t able to before. Now
we have the experience and we have that on our list of projects. When a bigger job comes up now, they know we can handle it because of the jobs we worked
on.”
      While Gutierrez is an MBE, he doesn’t count on it to make his company competitive. “I think we are more competitive now,” Gutierrez said. “A lot of minority
companies think you can automatically be a little higher because they are minority. But in actuality, you can’t. You have to be competitive and give quality
work. We try to come in with a competitive price and give them quality work and the minority status is a bonus that they get. The minority program really helps
open doors for us and that’s what happened in this case. Once we team up with some open-minded company like Boldt, then as long as we can perform, it’s a
partnership that we build.”
      The BOGS conference is something that is important to Amegashie because he feels it is one of those doors of opportunity that can aid MBEs in getting to
that next level. Amegashie noted that right now, it is the state and federal governments that are the biggest economic actors now spending money on
construction projects. Through the conference, Amegashie wanted MBEs to learn how the game is played and who the major players are.
      “The public sector is unique,” Amegashie emphasized. “It has rules, statutes, regulations, etc. that it operates by. So if you know what the rules are then you
will be able to adjust to those rules. Second, I want to be able to make sure that businesses talk to some primes. If everyone leaves here with knowledge of how
the system works and a good connection with a large firm, that is a good foundation on which to build successful businesses.”
      And Amegashie also emphasized that MBEs shouldn’t expect to hit a home run on its first project. Getting on first base is a wonderful start. “There are
$30,000 projects, little projects that people can start with,” Amegashie said. “And I encourage a lot of small businesses that if they can start there, then they learn
how the system works. They know how to put in a pay request. A pay request in our world isn’t the way you used to do it before. It’s in electronic format. You need
to understand that. So you can take a chance on a $30,000 project and go from there.”
      Accurate information is power. And when you have a solid business plan, knowledge of how the bidding system works and partners to secure business with, it
is a winning combination.
      For more information on current state bidding opportunities, visit
www.doa.state.wi/dsf/index.