The Contractors “Real Talk” series in Detroit is a meet-up for new and established Black, Indigenous, and People of Color contractors to have conversations with industry experts as they share their entrepreneurship journey of overcoming challenges and growing and scaling their businesses.
Terrell Pope started Jaz Construction in 2015. He says he’s been to roughly 50 networking events supporting minority contractors, but “Real Talk” has been a game changer. He first heard about the event through word of mouth.
“I had a lot of subcontract work come from other contractors at the event, and it’s just an amazing network as a minority contractor. It has built me up and lifted me up to just keep pushing and go harder,” Pope said. “I’ve connected with a guy that does electrical, a guy that has a cement company, someone that does demolition, and just a few other general contractors that couldn’t handle a job at the moment, so they subbed it out to me. It’s been a big change in my career.”
“Real Talk” was created by Southwest Detroiters Tanya Saldivar-Ali and Luis Ali, owners of AGI Construction. As owners of a small general contracting company. They wanted a “safe” space where Detroit contractors can come together to have peer-to-peer conversations about some of the challenges they experience growing and scaling their small businesses within the construction industry.
“There has been a big change in my career. Through the event, I had a couple of jobs come through,” Pope said.
The “Real Talk” series allows everyone a chance to give their “spiel,” as Pope puts it. “It kind of loosened up the room to where I felt more comfortable conversing about what I did, my flaws. They [panelists] told us about how many times they mismanaged time or money. It just hit home that it’s not just me. And there were more people like me – brown people, people of color.”
Javier Ramirez from Remodeling Detroit has not been in the construction game for long, but he sees similar results.
“Everybody gets a chance to bounce ideas off each other. Like me, I don’t do a specific trade, so it’s beneficial when you network with others who do a specific trade. I’ve networked with people that I can subcontract to,” Ramirez said.
In February of 2022, the restaurant Ramirez managed had staffing shortages and a carry-out-only option, limiting his growth within the industry, not to mention curtailing his income. He took some time off and remodeled his home basement.
“I did framing, electrical, trimmed floors, painted – the whole nine yards. I posted the results of the basement [on social media]. After that, it was a snowball effect. I got my builder’s license and have been solidly booked for two years.”
From the icebreaker, where everyone shares their background, story, and expertise, to the speaker introductions, the events are brimming with nuggets of wisdom and opportunities. The general consensus is that networking at this event has garnered business for attendees. At least, Diego Sanchez of Diego’s Properties seems to think so.
“Some contractors have bigger projects, so they say, ‘Hey, there’s a contract. You can do this job,” said Sanchez, a registered handyman who plans to get his contractor’s license in the next few months.
Mentoring opportunities exist for those breaking into the field who wish to learn from a more seasoned individual.
“We understand that mentoring is essential for professional development, especially learning directly from a person of color and peers in the industry, which is critical in overcoming systemic barriers and perceptions,” Saldivar-Ali said.
The event panelists are industry experts and provide information on funding resources. “Real Talk” has grown through word of mouth and social media. Its success has come from the willingness to take feedback into account for future talks and highlight collaborations.
Through candid conversations about industry challenges, navigating project management, and strengthening bonds within the community, the Detroit Contractor’s “Real Talk” series engages professionals interested in information about expanding, stabilizing, and sustaining their businesses.
“I’m so tired of large contractors saying Detroit minority contractors don’t qualify for opportunities. Together, we’re going to change that,” Saldivar-Ali said.
The next “Real Talk” event will be held Thursday, January 25, 2024, from 6-8pm at the Mexicantown International Welcome Center at 2835 Bagley Street, 48216. You can register on Eventbrite, as space is limited.
Estefania Arellano-Bermudez is a lifelong Detroiter. She has published in the Telegram News.
This story was made possible by the Race and Justice Reporting Initiative at the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. The goal of the initiative is to build trust between the news media and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities to strengthen representative democracy.