The Hanford Viaduct along the California high-speed rail route takes shape in this 2020 file photo. HSR photo

published on September 23, 2021 - 4:47 PM
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A $2.5 million grant awarded to the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce will go toward an effort to help woman- and minority-owned contractors compete for public construction contracts.

The grant from The James Irvine Foundation will support the Fresno DRIVE Economic Development initiative. Fresno DRIVE is a 10-year effort to increase economic mobility, address racial disparities and support environmental sustainability. It is being spearheaded by the Fresno-based Central Valley Community Foundation.

The Economic Development initiative aims to improve access to contractor bonding capacity, among other measures. The grant is the largest ever awarded directly to Fresno Metro Black Chamber.

“This investment is significant not only because of its size but the impact it will have on current and future generations of Black contractors,” said FMBCC Interim Executive Director and CEO Dr. Cassandra Little. “Limited bonding capacity has long stunted the growth and contractual success of minority contractors. With the generous support of The James Irvine Foundation, we are expanding access to the tools they need most, leading to increased contracts won in the Central Valley. This will keep jobs local and create generational wealth through small business ownership.”

The grant funds the recently launched Fresno Bonding, Technical Assistance, and Contract Financing Program (BTAC), which will work to permanently support the technical and capital needs of small businesses owned by women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), according to a Chamber news release.

The Chamber is partnering with Access Plus Capital, a local community development finance institution, to establish a Bond Guarantee Collateral Pool, and to administer funds. It’s estimated that at full capacity, the bond guarantee pool can be leveraged to support $4 million in contracts.

“This partnership will create tangible equitable outcomes within Fresno’s financial and small business ecosystem,” Access Plus Capital Executive Director Tate Hill said. “This unique initiative pairs a community lender with a small business service provider to equip contractors with the support they need to scale their businesses.”

Due to its experience as a minority contracting champion, Fresno Metro Black Chamber Foundation is uniquely positioned to optimize BTAC’s outcomes by leveraging its existing partnerships with the California High Speed Rail Authority, CalTrans, and Department of General Services, according to the release.

“Black contractors in the Central Valley are finally seeing programs that have existed and operated successfully in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, now available to them,” Dr. Little said.

“We are so thankful and honored to be the stewards of these funds and chart an expanded path to prosperity for BIPOC contractors. This work would not have been possible without the firm foundation laid by our previous leader, Tara Lynn Gray, and all of our partners along the way.”

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