Small-business owners paired with mentors to help grow their companies

Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Two people in masks, hard hats, and reflective jackets at a construction site.Metropolitan Council staff are helping connect owners of small, disadvantaged businesses with larger, more established companies in the construction industry to help the smaller companies grow their business, make connections, and get a foot in the door.

The benefits of the Mentor Protégé Program include increasing the capacity and availability of disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) — that is, the protégés; and helping prime contractors — the mentors — develop new relationships that foster DBE participation on their own projects.

It’s a two-way street that serves everyone.

Mutual benefits are already evident on a big project at our Empire Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dakota County, where the prime contractor, Rice Lake Construction Group, is working with subcontractor USAFRIK Construction, a small DBE firm.

Craig Habighorst of Rice Lake Construction said the mentor protégé relationship is a win-win for both parties.

“As a mentor, it’s nice to share what I have learned and see others grow,” he said. “At the same time, we are always looking for good contractors to work with in the future.

“The benefits I see are developing a lasting relationship with my protégé and seeing where his company goes,” Habighorst said. “I hope he learns something beneficial from us that helps his company be more successful in the future while also teaching us something new.”

Likewise, protégé Richard Mongo, president of USAFRIK Construction, is enthusiastic about the opportunity with Rice Lake. “My company is benefiting tremendously from the program because my mentor is showing me things that I would not have been exposed to otherwise,” Mongo said.

“For instance, I was shown the kind of software that Rice Lake uses to estimate earthwork quickly and accurately when it comes to excavating large quantities of dirt,” he explained. “Besides that, we are actively bidding and getting more work. We have secured two projects with Rice Lake already. This is great, and my mentor is a good teacher.”

Two people with masks inside a giant tunnel boring machine.

Equity goal fuels Mentor Protégé Program

“It is great to have prime contractors mentoring DBEs and to see everyone working together,” said Tracey Jackson, a senior manager in our Office of Equal Opportunity, who is helping implement this program.

Mentoring is a business-to-business relationship that allows both large and small companies to share their expertise and resources to further their business objectives and create a stronger economy with a more competitive business environment, Jackson said.

The practice of matching and cultivating relationships between large and small firms yields significant return on investment, allowing both to learn, evolve, and compete in new markets, she said.

An initiative supported by the Minnesota United Certification Program, the Mentor Protégé Program includes the Met Council, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Airports Commission, and the City of Minneapolis.

These business partnerships offer protégés professional assistance to foster their business development, including business planning, financial counseling, bidding and estimating, cash flow analysis, marketing, and more.

The partnerships featured here are Metropolitan Council Environmental Services contractors who are mentoring DBEs. The Office of Equal Opportunity is also working with Metro Transit contractors to facilitate DBE partnerships.

Pay it forward: Luke Minger and Willie Cager

Luke Minger, co-owner of Minger Construction in Jordan (Scott County), is a prime contractor who works regularly with Environmental Services. Minger said he feels fortunate to pass along his career experience to an ambitious small-business owner with plans to grow.

Minger takes a “pay it forward” attitude to his relationship with his protégé.

“When my father started out in the construction business, he had help from older and more experienced builders,” Minger said. “And I when I started, I also benefited from older and more experienced builders who took time to help me develop my skills, which really helped me get a leg up in the business.

“I started down in the ditches and have a lot respect for all the people I’ve known who helped me develop, so I know how that feels,” he said. “There’s a lot of complexity and a lot to manage in the business, and I feel good passing that along to someone who wants to learn and grow.

“We’re working well together, and it’s starting to develop into a friendship.”

Minger’s protégé, small business owner Willie Cager, owner of A+ Pro Painting in Minneapolis, is that hard-working professional who wants to learn and grow. “I started out working for my brother and have been painting ever since because I love it,” he said. But expanding his mostly residential painting business into a larger sphere has been difficult.

“A big challenge for me has been getting my foot in the door of the commercial industry,” Cager said, noting that his relationship with Minger is making a big difference helping develop his capacity as an industrial painter.

“Right now, we’re working on estimating the painting portion in the confined space of a lift station project,” he said. “This will help me secure future bids in the niche of industrial painting.

“Having been certified as a DBE has helped create a lot of opportunities for me, and hopefully even more success is around the corner as long as I keep striving. I never give up.”

Three people in masks talking outside a brick building.

Remembering the help he got: Matt Geislinger and Roger Coombs

Matt Geislinger, project manager at Geislinger & Sons Construction, also grew up in the family business. His father and two uncles spun their own company off when Barbarossa & Sons shut down in 2009, and they never looked back.

The new company benefited from 20+ years of experience and retained the same bonding and insurance companies going forward, as well as myriad business relationships. Like his predecessors, Matt Geislinger learned from the bottom up with guidance from older mentors. “We work many hours a day and do what we need to do to keep things moving in the right direction,” Geislinger said.

Paying it forward was important, too, he said. “When we found out about the Mentor Protégé Program, we thought it would be a good thing to try and help someone starting up a construction company, in the same way when we started up we also had mentors to help point us the right direction,” he said.

“And it’s going well with our protege, Action Construction. Hopefully in the future we will be doing a lot of work together.”

Roger Coombs, co-owner of Action Construction, also is hopeful. A small masonry and concrete operation since 2010, Action Construction has encountered its share of obstacles to growth and advancement, Coombs said.

Even after several successful projects, Coombs said access to capital for equipment to grow the company was a problem. Having such capital “would certainly enhance the company’s likelihood to secure larger, more profitable projects,” Coombs said, leading to more workers and growth where they have expertise and potential.

“We are learning a lot of insight from the Mentor Protégé Program and foresee myriad benefits from the alliance,” Coombs said. “Mainly, we are learning how to operate with effective strategies and how to implement consistency to facilitate growth. Also, we have been noting the inputs and cost control requirements for profitably sustaining projects.

“We are also becoming more aware of how to source and bid projects that are easily within our capacity and learning how to assign personnel to achieve efficient outcomes.”

Met Council's Disadvantaged Business Program (DBE)

Minnesota United Certification Program


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