This continuing series is called "Women In Business," and one of the ways Pittsburgh-area women- and minority-owned contracting businesses get business is to meet Lorna Nicholson, president of Contract Management Services.
Nicholson's firm is a catalyst, melding the needs of prime contractors for skilled subcontractor specialists with the expertise and services of aspiring small businesses -- all in the women and minority arena. Nicholson's business arose from the fact that big contracting companies routinely hire smaller firms to perform specific tasks within a larger project, such as installing bleachers in a high school sports complex or providing contracted security services at a juvenile detention facility.
This happens for at least three reasons. First, most publicly funded projects mandate that prime contractors award a percentage of work to minority-owned or women-owned businesses. Second, many revenue packages include incentives for prime contractors to adopt these practices. Third, many contractors pursue such policies as a matter of good business.
Established in 1993, Contract Management Services offers:
- Assistance to qualified and professional minority-owned and women-owned small businesses in competing for contracting opportunities in the government and private sectors.
- A "top-down and bottom-up approach" for connecting businesses with mid- to large-sized companies and prime contractors in the building, construction, professional and service industries.
- Assistance to government and private-sector companies to help them increase minority- and women-owned business participation.
- Expertise for planning and implementation of Minority and Women Business Enterprise (M/WBE) initiatives.
Based in Crafton, the company is made up of five women who circulate among revenue sources, prime contractors and aspiring subcontractors to learn every detail of what's happening and what's possible in getting small businesses a break.
Nicholson's firm may work for any of the players in this complex scene -- funding sources looking for successful M/WBE policy implementation, prime contractors seeking appropriate M/WBE subs or the small firms themselves.
Says Nicholson: "As part of our outreach function, we ensure that minority, women and small businesses are contacted and informed about projects on hand and subcontracting opportunities throughout the region."
The printed word
One of her most powerful tools is a simple newsletter called the "Bid Sheet." The secret is in the content, an inside view of what business is available for potential subcontractors, as well as the means to pursue it. The "Bid Sheet" is free and is issued weekly via fax. A recent issue ran three pages and identified 52 contract opportunities.
Nicholson gives full credit for the success of her 7-year-old business to her staff -- associates Kathryn M. Beardmore and Lisa Nicholson Craig, certification specialist Maryellen Kunkel and administrative assistant Eve St. Clair.
From Jamaica to Pittsburgh
Nicholson, a 1982 business administration graduate of Pace University, is a native of Jamaica who worked for years for the New York City Transit Authority before moving to Pittsburgh in 1989. She established her businessin 1993.
Asked about the difficulty of being a minority female dealmaker in the traditional male-dominated, union-oriented Pittsburgh market, she replies graciously, "Well, yes, it is a challenge, certainly. And the first meeting sometimes is difficult. But we're very, very good at what we do, and businesspeople quickly recognize that."
Meanwhile, she has been her own best client, building her firm and its public visibility through frequent op-ed publications and speaking engagements. She has also achieved several high level, high profile consulting projects. Among them are:
The city of Pittsburgh. Project manager for the city and five of its public authorities for the completion of a Disparity Study in the areas of procurement and contracting, as well as a companion study in employment practices.
PNC Park. Professional consulting services for the development and implementation of a minority business plan for participation in the construction of the 38,000-seat baseball stadium.
Board of Public Education. Consulting services to assist the Equity & Compliance Division in identifying disadvantaged businesses to increase participation in projects bid by the board.
Oxford Development Co. Professional services assisting with the development and implementation of a minority business plan regarding the renovation of the Lazarus Building in downtown Pittsburgh.
She has achieved her success with a simple formula.
"We do things our way," Nicholson says. "We're all women and we take, perhaps, a slightly different, more nurturing view of small business involvement. For me, for the firm, I think our greatest thrill is watching somebody succeed and prosper and move along to higher levels of skill and participation in significant projects." How to reach: Contract Management Services, (412) 922-6835
William McCloskey is a Pittsburgh-based free-lance writer.