And the award for Northern California Small Business of the Year from the California Black Chamber of Commerce goes to — Touré Associates Environmental Engineering in Fresno.
Tara Lynn Gray, the CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, nominated Touré Associates for the award, which the firm received back in August. It acknowledges the work of owner T’Shaka Touré and his employees to break through barriers facing disadvantaged businesses.
The California Department of Transportation defines disadvantaged businesses as those made up of at least 51 percent of either minorities or women, and statistically, these businesses are underrepresented in getting state and local construction contracts.
“I felt that he is representative of how we want businesses to go, how we want them to grow, who we want them to contract with and the success we want to see with them,” Gray said.
Touré Associates has been in the environmental consulting business in the Central Valley since 2009.
He came to Fresno knowing the impact high-speed rail would have in the community, and most of his work has been with either HSR or with CalTrans in identifying environmental needs and navigating regulations for industry.
“I’m a biologist — an environmental scientist — and I have a background in this. I know what’s good for the environment,” Touré said. “When you’re talking about building and transportation and natural resources, that’s my bread and butter.”
Touré’s ability to get access to the kinds of contracts to keep businesses like his alive is not one shared by many other disadvantaged businesses in the state.
Disadvantaged small businesses, whether they are environmental consultant firms, construction or engineering firms don’t often celebrate the kind of successes Touré has.
Touré calls it homework and hard work that lead him to the successes he has had.
In order to be successful as a subcontractor in this industry, he said, one must understand what service their firm is bringing to the table to get that project to completion.
He says he must be able to “articulate that and inform the client that the company is capable to get them to the finish line.”
When Touré Environmental first started, though, navigating regulations was a recurring obstacle.
One permit in particular almost cost him his business when, in 2011, his application took almost two years to process, preventing him from bidding on a number of jobs.
“I did everything on my end, but the regulatory committees were preventing me from going after projects in my field. It shut me out from prime [contractors] directly in my field,” Touré said.
Issues like these led him to begin the advocacy work he does for small businesses as both Touré Environmental and as a board member with the Fresno Metro Black Chamber.
“I’m able to view it from both sides of the fence. From the regulatory side, I’ve seen and understand what they want and what they’re looking for,” Touré said. “On the other side, from the teaching and educating side, when we know what they’re looking for, we can address those needs much better.”
And so, in order to help out subcontractors in the construction, engineering and service sector, Touré, as a member of the CalTrans Small Business Council, began to schedule workshops for disadvantaged businesses across the state in what they call the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Consortium.
It is a way to combine different firms together and pool resources to increase access to large projects with prime contractors.
Now, along with Gray and others in the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, Touré wants to bring the kinds of networks of subcontractors Touré sees in the Bay Area to the Central Valley.
“We’ve talked in great length at how we can help those businesses jump those hurdles much in the same way he has done it,” Gray said. “The consortium is really his idea. We need to do that in the Fresno area.”
The idea of connecting underrepresented subcontractors together to bid on projects was one of the reasons Gray nominated Touré in the first place, as well as being representative of the kind of businesses the Fresno Metro Chamber wants to celebrate.
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