Photos courtesy of Tradepoint Atlantic.

What started out last spring as a “back of the napkin idea” has catapulted a dozen construction companies into an intensive program designed to equip leaders of historically disadvantaged businesses with deeper knowledge, potent contacts and opportunities to land work at Central Maryland’s most extensive industrial development.

The leadership team of Tradepoint Atlantic immediately voted to launch the Empowerment Academy when the concept was presented to them last May by Jayson Williams, CEO of Mayson-Dixon Companies.

Tradepoint Atlantic is dedicated to creating a fair and equitable environment for minority-, women-, and veteran-owned small businesses, said Brian Bailey, who serves as Tradepoint Atlantic’s Safety Director and Executive Director of the Tradepoint Atlantic Empowerment Academy. “Our leadership team acknowledges the abundance of talent within these small enterprises. We are committed to taking meaningful actions to support their development and promote sustainable, inclusive growth. This commitment benefits not only our own economic success and progress but also contributes to theirs.”

Williams, who served as vice president of strategic alliances for Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation before founding his development and consulting company eight years ago, had envisioned a different approach to empowering small, minority-, woman- and veteran-owned companies. Williams serves as an external consultant to Tradepoint Atlantic and is co-leading this initiative with Bailey.

Graphic courtesy of Tradepoint Atlantic.

The academy would tap local business leaders and experts to deliver comprehensive sessions about core business functions, including finance, accounting, procurement, human resources, leadership development, marketing and entrepreneurship. It would provide small business leaders with free access to one-on-one sessions with financial, legal and other business professionals. It would also connect them with executives, project managers and procurement professionals at Tradepoint Atlantic and its tenants.

With 40 percent of Tradepoint Atlantic still to be developed, the Empowerment Academy focused the first cohort exclusively on companies in the construction industry.  Tradepoint plans to run the academy twice a year.

“Tradepoint Atlantic is a unique development. Our contractors are engaged in large-scale projects that necessitate a significant level of scalability and flexibility. If they cannot quickly scale up their operations, they may face challenges in fulfilling their project requirements. This is but one obstacle companies may face that we would like to help provide expert advice to surmount,” Bailey said.

The earliest sessions of the Empowerment Academy, which started in mid-September, have already demonstrated the program’s ability to help companies thrive in a challenging construction market.

A major hurdle currently facing small companies who are trying to take on larger projects, is the combination of high interest rates and reduced bank lending.

During a finance session presented by Meridian Management Group (MMG), “eyes were opened to programs and options” for securing better financing, Williams said.

Those included loans backed by the Small Business Administration that would qualify for lower interest rates, funding options through Maryland’s Video Lottery Fund, best practices for convincing banks to offer better rates and larger loans, and specialized financing options, like mobilization loans.

Photos courtesy of Tradepoint Atlantic.

After the MMG session, “three of the cohort members promptly reached out via email to express that they had never previously considered the idea of obtaining a mobilization loan,” Williams said. “They realized that it is currently a more cost-effective alternative than using a line of credit and an effective method for preparing for a project.”

Several cohort members also promptly booked one-on-one sessions with MMG to discuss their individual financial issues. That individualized service will be provided by legal, procurement, marketing and other professionals for the duration of the academy session and beyond.

Tradepoint Atlantic is committed to funding the services in order to educate and strengthen not just current students but the community of Empowerment Academy alumni. Those ongoing services, Williams said, could also generate insightful materials for the entire alumni. For example, sharing an original and an expertly rewritten construction contract could demonstrate best practices for contract language.

The academy’s close interaction with Tradepoint Atlantic professionals could provide other business insights and opportunities. Instructors, with the consent of parties involved, can analyze unsuccessful contract proposals by cohort members to identify issues and help generate solutions, such as connecting a small business with a larger materials supplier that offers better prices, Williams said. It could also motivate Tradepoint Atlantic and its affiliated contractors to review existing contracts and search for opportunities to carve out sections of work that would be suitable for smaller companies.