“I tell my kids all the time to look around,” Louis Waller III said. “Everything you have is because your grandfather gave us a chance.”
Louis Waller III, president and owner of general contractor Waller Corporation, founded by his father, Louis Waller II, in 1986, is likely inspiring not only his children but other minority-owned businesses these days. In December, his company was awarded a $6 million contract on the Terminal Modernization Program (TMP) at Pittsburgh International Airport.
It’s the latest example that the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s strategy to attract more minority participation in the new terminal project is working. In addition to Waller Corp., — located about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh in Washington, Pa. – over 60 DBE firms are already involved on the TMP and have earned more than $150 million.
“We are excited to participate in the construction of the new project at the airport,” Waller said. “This is important for the minority business community.”
Earlier this year, Waller Corp. worked on the terminal renovation project for Allegheny County Airport (AGC) in West Mifflin, Pa. The TMP contract represents the company’s first job at PIT.
Waller Corp. was the lowest responsible bidder for the TMP’s general works package. In cooperation with the construction managers and contractors, Waller Corp. will serve as the general manager by overseeing assembly logistics and providing a variety of services until the completion of the TMP. These services include onsite security and monitoring, miscellaneous carpentry, onsite material management and movement, waste removal, general cleanup, onsite sanitary control, and general assistance with maintaining the site conditions.
As part of the new terminal project, the Airport Authority, which operates PIT and AGC, created a strategy of “unbundling” large contracts into smaller ones in an effort to give smaller companies a chance to win TMP bids. The strategy makes bids more competitive and opens the door for many more local firms, including more minority business enterprises (MBEs) and disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs).
“We are focused on making sure that all firms have equal access to opportunity at our airports,” said Jenee Oliver, Manager of Business Development & Equity for the Airport Authority.
“It’s very important for minorities to be on large projects like the TMP because you get exposure. It’s about access and opportunity,” Waller said. “If we [minority or disadvantaged businesses] don’t have the opportunity and access, we are not going to be able to succeed in particular markets.”
The Waller Corp. story started 35 years ago, when Louis Waller II launched the business after 15 years as president of McAnallen Corporation, a large general contractor in Washington, Pa. The owners were Charles and George McAnallen.
“Until the day he died my father never understood why two white men would trust their company to a minority gentleman,” Waller III said. “To have such a large and established company run by a Black man in the late 60s and early 70s was unheard of in this area. They were two unique individuals.”
Jean McAnallen, widow of George McAnallen, said she doesn’t recall details about the business – but she remembers Mr. Waller fondly. “He was a nice man,” she said.
Waller III said that under his father’s leadership McAnallen Corp. increased its staff from five to more than 70 employees and was generating $175 million, equating to nearly half a billion dollars today, before his father left to start Waller Corp.
Since the beginning, Waller Corp. has provided general contract work for public and private businesses within a 90-mile radius of Washington, Pa. In 1987, Waller III graduated from West Virginia University and joined his father at the family company while pursuing his MBA from Waynesburg College. Over the last five years Waller Corp. has averaged revenue of $23 to $24 million a year.
Although Louis Waller III operates a successful business, he continues to witness minority and disadvantage contractors struggle. That’s why he works with Joel Burstein, co-founder and CEO for Black Economic Advance and Mobility (BEAM), a newly established nonprofit organization in the Greater Pittsburgh Region that serves as a liaison between black-owned contracting firms and businesses.
“One of the biggest challenges minorities face in this area is getting the majority to believe they are capable,” said Waller III. “If you only have one or two upsized businesses like us, then you don’t have enough examples of capable people or capable companies.”
As part of the Airport Authority’s multipronged strategy to increase DBE participation, it has hosted more than 50 DBE outreach events since 2018 – including in the North Side, Homewood, Hill District, Hazelwood and Downtown. Specifically, for the TMP, the Airport Authority hosted “Meet the Primes” events to connect DBEs with existing contract holders. The Airport Authority has conducted bonding classes that allow firms to learn skills that can increase their capabilities and complete all requirements to compete for contracts on a level playing field. Several class attendees have gone on to secure contracts with large prime contractors.
Oliver said the three key factors that have helped boost DBE participation with those 60-plus firms are breaking down barriers to entry, actively working with and recruiting DBE firms in the region, and dedicating staff to enforce and monitor DBE compliance.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires 14 percent DBE participation on most airport construction contracts. Oliver said a recent FAA audit of the Airport Authority’s DBE Program found that it not only complied with the statutory requirements, but the FAA staff was so impressed, they carried back the program as an example for others.