Beverly Watts: Empowering Michigan’s Small Businesses in Infrastructure Growth

Beverly Watts, the president of BME Consulting, LLC based in Detroit, is a respected leader in Michigan’s infrastructure sector. She sees numerous opportunities in urban areas with aging infrastructure, emphasizing the need for improvement and the potential for small businesses to secure contracts. Watts highlights the recent emphasis and funding directed towards transportation, water, environmental infrastructure, and broadband.

Watts states, “Over the past several years, a lot of emphasis and funding has been focused on improving our transportation, water, environmental infrastructure and broadband. With the continuous decline of staff capacity at every level, this gives small businesses more opportunities to obtain contracts and it creates greater partnerships with large contractors.”

According to the Michigan Chronicle, Michigan received $3 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021. These funds are allocated for climate, energy, and transportation projects. Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that $110 billion will be dedicated to roads and bridges, and an additional $66 billion will be spent on the U.S. rail network. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) estimated that the bill would bring around $7.26 billion to the state over the next five years, $1.7 billion more than the previous five years.

Watts advises infrastructure entrepreneurs to pursue certification, which she considers essential for taking advantage of these opportunities. She recommends approaching the certification process with a “CEO mindset” and exercising patience, as it typically takes about 90 days. Watts also stresses the importance of having a designated point-person or hiring a consultant to assist with the process. She advises, “Please familiarize yourself with the agency’s system; please research the certification process — there are several websites and programs to assist you. I inform my clients to review each question and provide specific detailed information as requested to avoid delays or elimination.”

The response from Black businesses seeking certification has been “enormous,” according to Watts. She believes that obtaining certification is crucial for the growth of these businesses. However, she acknowledges that many small businesses find the certification process cumbersome and structured, potentially discouraging minority entrepreneurs from completing it. Watts explains that government entities must maintain compliant procurement protocols to ensure fairness and transparency in the allocation of government funding. She acknowledges that state and local governments have made improvements in procurement protocols and inclusion opportunities over the years. However, she also recognizes the administrative challenges faced by small businesses and is committed to assisting them in obtaining certification.

Watts emphasizes that infrastructure opportunities are closely tied to addressing climate change. She points out the urgent need to improve infrastructure to mitigate flooding caused by extreme rainfall and enhance utility infrastructure to minimize power outages resulting from increasing temperatures. She highlights that urban areas, already grappling with issues such as affordable healthcare and lower incomes, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Watts commends Governor Whitmer for her initiatives to address climate change and the formation of regional groups consisting of municipalities and utility agencies working on a comprehensive plan. She believes that Biden’s infrastructure funding is essential for implementing these necessary changes and notes that the funding is distributed to each state and municipality.

Watts underscores why certification is crucial for Black businesses, explaining that the engineering and construction industry is currently facing staffing capacity challenges. Without certification, she warns that contractors from outside the state may secure the available work. When asked about connecting Black businesses with opportunities without contributing to gentrification, Watts recognizes the complexity of the issue. She suggests close collaboration with business and community leaders to ensure the preservation of existing residents and historical landmarks. Watts advises working with non-profit organizations that acquire land trust for affordable housing and retail spaces to promote more equitable development. Supporting these initiatives can create more entrepreneurial opportunities and jobs for current residents. In conclusion, Watts believes that small businesses can play a significant role in gentrification by advocating for marginalized communities and actively participating in decision-making processes. Watts concludes, “The bottom line is that small businesses can have a substantial impact on gentrification by being a voice for the voiceless while seated at the table. It is crucial to work closely with all stakeholders, especially business and community leaders, to ensure that initiatives prioritize the preservation of existing residents and historical landmarks. Additionally, partnering with non-profit organizations that focus on land trust acquisitions for affordable housing and retail spaces can contribute to a more equitable development. By supporting these initiatives, we can create a conducive environment for entrepreneurship and job creation while addressing the challenges posed by gentrification.”

Andrea Plaid contributed to this article.

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