Colas Construction: Building Community
When Andrew Colas was studying at the University of Oregon's Lundquist College of Business, his dream was to help his family's construction business become the most respected in the Portland area.
Now, with Colas and his siblings steering the future of the company, Portland-based Colas Construction is well on its way to achieving that goal.
Colas Construction recently was named Minority Business Firm of the Year by the Business Diversity Institute.
The minority-owned company was founded by Andrew's father, Hermann, who migrated to the United States from Haiti. Even from the earliest days of Colas Construction, Hermann was driven to make sure his company was supporting and encouraging other minority-owned businesses.
"It's the overall philosophy of the company — as we grow, we bring others along with us," said Colas, the company's president and CEO. "Since my father started the firm, his goal was always to make sure we were able to break down barriers to help other companies get opportunities."
The company currently employs between 75 and 85 people and has about a dozen Portland-area projects underway that represent the company's diverse range of work.
While affordable housing is "near and dear" to the company's heart, Colas Construction's portfolio also includes market-rate housing projects, as well as health care and K-12 work. However, it's the company's work on the Lloyd District that has made recent headlines.
When Colas Construction won the award to handle a major renovation at the Oregon Convention Center, the company's $27 million contract became the largest public contract ever awarded in Oregon to a minority-owned firm.
More recently, it was announced that 50% of work on the project had been awarded to subcontractors with COBID certifications, far exceeding the 30% goal that had been set by project owner Metro.
Craig Stroud, executive director of the convention center, gives credit for that accomplishment to the strong relationships that Colas has established with local COBID firms, a group that includes emerging small businesses and minority-, women- and veteran-owned companies.
Andrew Colas is quick to give credit for success on the project to his brother, Alex, who runs the company's special projects division and is project manager for the convention center work.
"He's pretty much lived and breathed that project for the past 18 to 20 months," Colas said.
The company's family leadership ties also include Colas' sister, Aneshka Colas-Dickson, in the roles of CFO and vice president. "She really runs the show," Andrew Colas said.
The company's success emerging as a leader among the city's top general contractors has been a deliberate, steady climb, according to Colas. The company carefully picked larger companies to partner with on past projects, but always kept focused on the longer-term goal.
"Our intention was always to grow, to be able to compete with the larger firms in town," Colas said. "We've always been focused on finding the right market segments for our business and the right clients. It's really important as you grow as a general contractor."
The company is setting an example for diversity and inclusion on projects that Colas hopes other general contractors will notice and begin to replicate.
"The work we do now, we're really looking to shape the industry and get some of the big firms out there to follow our example," Colas said.
He offers some tips for companies looking to move toward similar goals.
"You have to spend time and invest in the growth of relationships — that's the key," Colas said. "You have to build trust."
He also encourages owners and general contractors to move beyond the mindset that diversity and inclusion only apply to public projects.
"If you're a big company, it's about giving firms real opportunities to participate. Maybe it's not only the (public jobs) that have requirements. Doing it early on projects and often — and when it's not required — shows people you're really genuine about it."
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