By Jim Thomson
For The Herald
There’s no denying that small businesses have a tremendous impact on Washington’s economy.
According to the Small Business Administration, small firms represent 98 percent of all businesses in Washington state. Data from 2013 found that more than 43,000 new jobs were created by small businesses and, as the most trade-dependent state in the country, Washington’s small employers make up 89.9 percent of all exporters in the state.
In Everett, small businesses are critical in helping drive job creation, innovation and economic vitality. Notably, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women- and minority-owned businesses represent nearly half (46 percent) of Everett-area businesses.
Many small businesses, both locally and nationwide, are thinking big about issues ranging from public transportation and infrastructure to regional growth. There is potential for these organizations to not only transform local economies, but to also affect regional initiatives far beyond the city and county limits.
Everett’s residents and business owners have a vested stake in transportation infrastructure improvement and expansion programs. As anyone who has lived in our region and sat in traffic on I-5 knows, we have some of the worst traffic in the nation.
INRIX noted earlier this year in its annual Global Traffic Scorecard that Everett’s traffic ranked 32nd worst out of 297 U.S. cities, and that drivers spent 28 percent of peak commuting time stuck in traffic in 2017.
Addressing transportation challenges like these in the short and long term will require the services of businesses of all sizes specializing in architecture, engineering, construction and construction management. Small and diverse businesses such as 1 Alliance Geomatics Surveying and Mapping with offices in Everett, and HWA GeoSciences, Inc., in Bothell, have played a crucial role in contributing to Puget Sound’s fast-expanding and much-needed transportation systems.
There is a vast opportunity — and an urgent regional need — for larger businesses to support local small, minority- and woman-owned businesses so they can continue addressing larger regional challenges, including our complex transportation issues. It is vital that we gain input, perspective and talent from a diverse group of stakeholders and experts.
However, the inclusion of diverse groups will not happen if we are not committed to making it a reality.
One of the core values at HNTB is our commitment to support small, woman- and minority-owned businesses across the nation. We demonstrate this through active mentoring and engagement of small minority- and woman-owned businesses. This entails including them as meaningful and integrated partners in our projects, which ultimately drives strong transportation growth and economic vibrancy in Everett, Snohomish County and beyond.
Last year, we met with more than 100 small and minority-owned firms, throughout Puget Sound. The result is the addition and integration of 67 small businesses, including women-owned or minority-owned firms, into our project teams for work on various transportation projects in the Puget Sound region.
In 2017, HNTB committed 19 percent of the work on one of our largest contracts to our Washington state small business enterprise partners, of which 12 percent were disadvantaged business enterprises. These firms span a broad spectrum of land-use planning, engineering, geotechnical drilling and testing, freight and port operations, tribal coordination, landscape architecture, noise and vibration, stormwater and drainage, permitting, phasing and constructability, affordable housing, and more.
Local businesses provide critical services and expertise that establish a foundation for sustainable decision-making regionwide. Through community outreach and public involvement, organizations such as Sound Transit, for example, are able to develop early partnerships with community representatives, agency stakeholders and political leaders.
Larger organizations can identify meaningful areas of work within their businesses and their broader communities for each woman-owned or minority-owned business. At HNTB, we have found success through collaborative planning with our partners to better understand their needs, and in turn to develop formal mentoring programs, implement quarterly feedback processes and team-building activities, and offer direct business counsel including training, templates and tools.
“HNTB is dedicated to supporting diversity in the infrastructure industry,” says Kris Purrier, president and principal with HWA Geosciences. “Not only does HNTB believe in putting the best team together, its managers take the time to treat each small- or minority-owned business partner as a vital part of the team and share knowledge to help guide them on the many facets of a project, whether it be client relationships, negotiations, contracting, and resourcing. They have been an integral part of HWA’s growth with new clients and expanding projects.”
Another example of a successful mentoring program is Seattle-based Skills That Shine, which partners HNTB employees in Washington state with students pursuing degrees in STEM fields.
There is significant value for larger businesses to help nurture and mentor women-owned and minority businesses, as well as students, to help build and sustain a bright future for our region. Whether moving critical transportation initiatives forward or fostering interest for students in STEM-focused careers, when businesses partner together the chances for success rise exponentially.
We encourage more regional businesses to look for opportunities to hold community outreach and mentoring events and implement programs to help small and disadvantaged business enterprises.
Jim Thomson is Northwest Division president for HNTB Corp.