WASHINGTON —A new program will allow minority-owned construction companies to compete in the world economy by using international ties, such as language, family, culture and an understanding of certain customs.
The Global Construction Program, a partnership between the private sector and the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency, was introduced at a news conference Tuesday.
The program will give minority-owned companies an international business sense.
Participating firms will learn how to manage local labor, negotiate contracts and transfer technology to less-developed countries. They will be taught the legal side of international business so they will feel comfortable overseas.
“It’s all about the familiarity,” said Richard Rizzo, executive vice president of Tutor Perini Corp. His company will offer $1 billion in international contracts in large commercial developments from its four-year backlog, primarily in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guam, to companies that complete the program.
Senior executives at Tutor Perini will provide some of the training, along with the University of Southern California, for up to 150 established minority-owned firms this year.
Dennis Hightower, deputy secretary of commerce, said the program will be of tremendous assistance to a sector that doesn’t get much attention.
“Minority-owned small businesses have felt the full force of the credit crunch and the economic slowdown,” he said.
Minority-owned companies account for 7.2 million jobs, and 8.7 percent of those businesses are in construction, said David Hinson, MBDA national director.
Entrepreneurs who are given access to global markets with strengthened capabilities could create opportunities for sustainable growth, creating jobs in the process, Hightower said.
The initiative is part of the Obama administration’s agenda to double exports over the next five years while supporting 5 million jobs, said Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of commerce for international trade.
“We often think of exports in technology and aerospace. Health care also gets a lot of attention,” he said. “The fact is infrastructure is an increasingly important sector.”
He said exports create high-paying employment and accounted for 8.3 million jobs in 2009. But only 1 percent of all businesses in the U.S. export goods or services. This is an area for improvement because 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be spending about $750 billion over the next 10 years on infrastructure projects, Sanchez said.
“If we are going to have a robust economy, then it has to include a robust export sector,” he said.
India and China are among the biggest targets for the future. In India, 250 million people are expected to move from villages to cities in the next 15 years, creating more demand for infrastructure such as housing, schools, hospitals and jails, Hightower said.
“If we can pull this of, and I think we will, then this may be a model for other industries, other sectors within our economy to get us back in the game in the global marketplace,” he said.