Meet the primes, by Zoom
As the fear of COVID-19 has forced people into isolation, keeping in touch for construction companies has become hard work.
Stonemasons, plumbers, window installers, parking lot stripers — they all need somewhere to connect with the people allotting the work.
Gone are the days of networking events like job-fair style get-togethers, awards ceremonies, and golf tournaments. The bid notices are still out there — online, on ORPIN (soon to be rebranded OregonBuys) and in media like the Business Tribune and the Daily Journal of Commerce. But bidding has always been a more complicated process than filling out forms and glad-handing the gatekeepers.
Last week Skanska and Hoffman Construction joint hosted a Zoom video conference called Meet the Primes. A total of 90 people logged in, and at one 17 had their cameras turned on.
The three-hour event was designed for subcontractors to hear about buildings that are about to be built and bid packages that are to "hit the street" in the next few months. For example, Metro's $419 million Parks and Nature bond came up as a source of work coming up in 2021.
"It is really crucial for our business that we are able to maintain open lines of communication with our trade partners and understand what their needs are and share the opportunities we have with them," said Rebekah Kilgore, purchasing officer at Hoffman Construction Company.
Life on mute
Like many Zooms, it consisted of a few faces ranged on-screen, mostly the organizers', plus a lot of camera-off people represented by their initial letter. Those on-screen made little attempt to join in the "stretch and flex" session led by Addie Miller of Skanska. However, the real business was hearing from the primes and what work they had to offer.
Miller then talked about Building Connected, Skanska's program for connecting subcontractors to their projects.
"Sure, you get contacted a lot, but it gives you an inside look into future projects," said Miller.
Several primes took turns explaining their system for communicating with subs and then went into detail about bid packages.
Rebekah Kilgore, a purchasing officer at Hoffman Construction Company, joked that their five-page questionnaire could feel worse than doing your taxes, but a few sections could be skipped, and it was worth it for staying on the Hoffman radar. Kilgore talked about the suite of bathrooms needed at Hayward Field in Eugene, then added, "It's all on our website, for download free of charge." This was a reminder that while showing up on screen is important, if you miss the details there is a level playing field for going back and finding them.
The next day, Kilgore told the Business Tribune of the Zoom event, "It was great. I really miss the face to face interaction, and this is definitely not the same, but it's still keeping us connected to the subcontracting community and, in particular, the small business community."
John Downing, Manager of Vendor Diversity for Skanska in Oregon and Washington, told the Business Tribune that video conferencing seems to be taking ahold. Skanska's Building Connected system offers educational videos, using Skanska's subject matter experts, for certified diverse firms. They can learn how to estimate, build a team, or pitch their safety and security efforts. These classes are now also conducted by Zoom. Skanska recently graduated 46 businesses from a five-week course with two classes per week. One of the things workers really liked, according to Downing, was the convenience. "After working all day, they appreciated not having to drive across town to attend a class in person."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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