For more than a decade, Virginia Culbreath has worked to promote greater diversity and inclusion among companies doing business with the Allegheny County Airport Authority.
As the administrator for the Authority’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, Culbreath and her colleague Jennifer Clossin-Kerr, manager of DBE compliance, help minority-, women- and LGBT-owned businesses bid for contracts, from reading legal documents to securing the bonds to qualify for the work.
“What we’re trying to do is let the small businesses and DBEs know that somebody is advocating for them,” Culbreath said. “The whole point is for small, minority-owned or women businesses out there to have opportunities,” Clossin-Kerr added.
They are making progress. This month, the Three Rivers Business Alliance honored Culbreath and ACAA with a “My Business, My Pride” award.
Culbreath and ACAA were specifically honored with the Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney Champion in DEI award for promoting and practicing inclusivity in the workplace. The award recognizes those who support minority business enterprise and LGBT business enterprise procurement, strive to offer DEI education and uplift marginalized employees.
The importance of outreach
Culbreath views outreach as one of the most important steps in helping a business grow. For the fifth consecutive year, ACAA partnered with the Riverside Center for Innovation for another round of the DBE Bonding Series, a six-week program focused on making small businesses bond-ready.
The program helps DBEs better understand the process of getting bonded and teaches them the key steps they need to kickstart their businesses – from bidding on contracts to reading legal documents. Securing bonds is a key part of owning a small business; this important step allows businesses to compete for contracts on jobs.
DBEs exist to help fight discrimination against women and minorities. To participate in the DBE program, small minority business leaders must own at least 51 percent interest and control daily work operations.
Although the bonding program is an annual event for ACAA, the airport attends outreach events for DBEs all year. After meeting small business owners at these events, Culbreath holds virtual office hours to further connect with them.
Holly Douglas, vice president of engineering firm Cosmos Technologies, understands the importance of making connections as a small business owner. Her company is a prime contractor for mechanical engineering at the airport, focusing on roof design. She said she appreciates the airport’s high level of engagement and the work it does to connect the organization and small businesses.
Opportunities for small businesses
This year, 11 graduates successfully completed the bonding program, one of the largest cohorts ever.
Graduate Imani Gray, owner of Gwendolyn’s Construction, finished community college this year. At 20, he said the program gave him the information he didn’t receive in school that he needs to grow his business. One of the first presentations was about the airport and how to get involved with work there, particularly the $1.57 billion Terminal Modernization Program.
“For the airport to connect with us, they’re letting us know ‘Hey, this is what’s going on in Pittsburgh. This is super important,’” he said. “Getting these experiences and connections is making me a better business owner.”
Victoria Snyder, director of strategic initiatives for Riverside, considers the program a way for small businesses to build stepping stones to success, a path that the airport helps pave.
“The airport has such a key role in this because they’re bringing so much economic growth and value to our community,” Snyder said.
She credited airport officials for ensuring the new terminal project provided equal access to opportunity and meaningful DBE representation.
“That dedication is helping not only build the impact in our community, but also the economic dollars that trickle down into our communities.”