7 ways to solve Philly’s #ConstructionSoWhite problem

The facts are discouraging as it relates to diversity and inclusion in Philly’s real estate and construction industry. Except for a few standouts who have prioritized diversity such as David Cohen at Comcast, LF Driscoll general contracting, and the team at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, we have come to accept failure as the norm in this industry.

Here are the facts: There are a handful of female and people-of-color-led development companies struggling to get in the stream of projects as it relates to impact; two Black general contractors with significant capacity, Perryman Construction and Pride Enterprises; and one woman general contractor with capacity in Philadelphia, Bittenbender Construction. Denver, Oklahoma City and Portland respectively have managed to grow more non-white-male construction enterprises than Philadelphia, whose total non-white population hovers at 55%.

All but one of the 50 Trade Unions in Philadelphia refuse to disclose demographic data because they know how telling that data would be as it relates to inclusion within the historically white industry. Meanwhile, the current boom has contractors staring down a labor shortage.

We have a crisis of exclusion within the building industry. But it’s solvable- if city officials, project owners, developers, and the general contracting community are able to work collectively.  This list offers steps we can take as a city to increase diversity in a field that holds the potential to generate thousands of local jobs and career pathways.

1. Diversity as a way of doing business: Project owners — institutions, schools, churches, non-profits, government, and private developers — should add diverse and small firms to the pre-development, professional services and architect/engineering teams. It is more likely that an all-white pre-development team will lead to an all-white construction team.

2. Create support structures: Owners and general contractors should make a commitment to diversity and adopt a mixture of risk mitigation policies and rewards to gain organizational support. Examples include: low-cost bonding and insurance programs

3. Diversity as a metric: Owners should utilize a request for proposal (RFP) bidding and scoring process that encourages and rewards diversity. Joint venture arrangements between general contractors and minority and women-owned firms, as well as joint venture arrangements between majority subs and minority subs, should be encouraged through the process.

4. Industry mentors: Owners should also encourage mentor/protégé relationships between large and small vendors as an acceptable way to boost inclusion. These are feasible steps that could be made part of the scoring process to choose vendors.

5. Forgo the lowest bid: Owners should avoid the low-bid contractor selection process, which studies have shown isn’t always effective. Owners should instead utilize a best overall qualified bid and scoring system that rewards qualified contractors for being price, quality, as well as diversity ( see #2).

6. Carve out jobs: Owners can dictate carve-outs at the onset including project management, material testing, quality control, project safety, scheduling and project controls. These smaller jobs create opportunities for smaller or less capitalized firms.

7. Create consequences: Owners should adopt a posture that rewards firms that adhere to their inclusion guidelines and shun/punish firms that don’t.

More government regulations that force diversity from top down will fail. Instead, we need leaders in board rooms, c-suites and other places of power to stand up and take action.

Blane Fitzgerald Stoddart is president and CEO of BFW Group, LLC and a commissioner with the Governor’s Commission on African American Affairs.


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Historic Harrisburg Association pays tribute to native son Calobe Jackson Jr., city’s African-American heritage

By Jan Murphy |

Calobe Jackson Jr. grew up in his dad’s barbershop on North Sixth Street in Harrisburg listening to the stories told by the doctors, lawyers and other influential Black people who stopped in for a shave and a haircut.

“You heard them and saw them in their relaxed mode and you could understand the stories that they told,” Jackson said.

From the time spent in the barbershop as a young boy and continuing through 40-year career at the city’s post office and community service, Jackson accrued a strong knowledge of Harrisburg history and its Black heritage and has willingly shared it in various ways over the years.

The 90-year-old Jackson was honored on Sunday for his decades of community service by the Historic Harrisburg Association at an outdoor ceremony due to COVID-19 concerns.

The event, which took place in front of Jackson’s boyhood home where his dad had his barbershop, also included officially designating that area of the city as Jackson Square. An outdoor history exhibit titled, “The African-American Business District that became ‘Jackson Square’” was unveiled that stands on a peat moss covered island at the south end of the 1000 block of North Sixth Street.

Buildings in that block are in the process of being restored into affordable housing and commercial spaces. Behind this restoration project is a team of investors that includes Harrisburg native sons and professional football players LeSean and LeRon McCoy, and Ryan Sanders, of Vice Capital and R.B. Development, who have set out to preserve this last remnant of the city’s African-American business district.

Sanders, who was in attendance at the ceremony, said the blocklong project envisions making it a business corridor again.

“We’ll take it from one business [the Jackson House restaurant] to seven or eight,” Sanders said.

But in the early part of the last century, North Sixth Street had all sorts of businesses operating there. Jackson shared that next to his father’s barber shop was home to the “Jackson House,” a rooming house once owned by another Jackson family. Both his father’s barbershop and the rooming house were listed in the “Green Book,” a traveler’s guide indicating where Black people were welcome during the time of segregation.

In telling the approximate 50 invited guests about the block’s history, Jackson recalled as a boy, seeing boxing legend Joe Louis entering the Jackson House. He then launched into a litany of the names of African-American and other businesses that once lined Sixth Street up to Division Street.

“They’re all gone. Not only are the businesses gone, the buildings are physically gone,” Jackson said.

“This is why this is so important,” he said, referring to the rehabilitation project underway in his old neighborhood. “This the area we can come to called Jackson Square. These are the original buildings and it’s important we remember them.”

Tom Darr, president of the Historic Harrisburg Association’s board, credited both Jackson and the team of people involved in the rehabilitation project for their contributions to preserving the city’s heritage.

He described Jackson as a “a man who has brought to Harrisburg so much knowledge of urban history” through his research and remembrances.

As for the McCoy brothers and those involved in breathing new life into the block, Darr acknowledged their role as one that is “not only fostering economic development but also preserving history for new generations to know and see with their own eyes.”

Representatives from Historic Harrisburg Association as well as the city, county and state governments heaped praise and proclamations on Jackson for his service to the community that went well beyond being a self-described Harrisburg historian.

Over the years, he spent time on the city’s school board as well as heading up its board of control when the district fell under mayoral control. During that time on the board of control, Jackson, who studied math at Lincoln University, helped establish the city school’s Math-Science Academy and Sci Tech High to enhance the education of Harrisburg’s youth.

In addition to his U.S. Postal Service career, he also has served in various other roles including as a member of the Harrisburg Planning Commission, as a trustee of Harrisburg University and the Historical Society of Dauphin County, among others.

Receiving the “Toast of Historic Harrisburg” recognition and acknowledgements of the contributions he has made over the course of his lifetime during the ceremony put a big smile on his face that could be seen once he removed his mask.

“This is quite an honor. It’s an honor for me. It’s an honor for my family. It’s an honor for Harrisburg,” Jackson said. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

On Saturday, Jackson will help with a Historic Harrisburg Association walking tour of the Old 8th Ward, Jackson Square and Harrisburg’s African-American Heritage. Participants should meet at 10 a.m. at the Capitol East Wing fountain along Commonwealth Avenue. For more information, visit www.

Jan Murphy may be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.


Ryan Sanders: New Money

Ryan Sanders is a community servant with a big mission. Sanders is part of a group of young Black men who are reinvesting their time, money, and other resources into the Harrisburg community to create affordable housing and opportunities for their own people.

Sanders, a partner at Vice Capital, along with NFL players LeRon McCoy and LeSean McCoy, and a partner at RB Development, with Blaine Stoddart, is emphasizing affordable housing for Blacks to regain financial security.

“There is an overall need for affordable housing. Being from the inner city, I have witnessed people living on limited income levels,” Sanders, 36, said. “Housing is a large expense that a lot of people struggle with paying each month.”

When he was 21, Sanders attended a financial empowerment seminar hosted by Zig Ziglar that featured Robert Kiyosaki and President Donald Trump. At the time, he wanted to own a home, but he wanted to find resources. A mentor encouraged him to attend this seminar in order for him to learn more about financial freedom through real estate. The seminar inspired Sanders to begin a career in real estate.

The first of many projects for Sanders is the Jackson Square project. There are three phases to that project. The first phase is the historical preservation of three parcels that will include mixed income housing and commercial space. The second phase is an enhanced median and new sidewalks, pavers, and historical markers. Lastly, the third phase will include a $13.5 million affordable housing complex for area senior citizens that will replace a blighted lot which was the former site of the Bethel AME Church that burned down in 1995.

The project will be mixed use, between residential and commercial. Sanders plans to attract ambitious Pennsylvania business owners as commercial tenant at the Jackson Square location. He encourages Black business owners to apply as commercial tenants as an opportunity to unite and practice cooperative economics.

“We want to provide all business owners an opportunity, but we understand the historical and socioeconomic hurdles African-Americans have faced.  That is why we implemented a mandatory minority inclusion goal for the entire project to exceed 30%.  This will ensure that minority and local contractors are not overlooked when projects in occur in their own city,” Sanders said.

Recently, Sanders led the commemoration ceremony for Calobe Jackson, a Harrisburg native and community servant. The resounding theme of the ceremony was legacy. Jackson Square was home to historic Harrisburg families. It was so important that, during its height, it housed Black greats like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and heavyweight champion Joe Louis.

“Legacy is very important to me,” Sanders, who has a one-year-old son, said. “As a father it’s important to me that we showcase the existing legacy. Blacks having ownership makes it possible to give back to our own people, however we determine.”

Jackson Square, known as Black Wall Street, should be replicated in cities worldwide. Sanders points to the cultural centers common in major cities, like a China Town or the Amish/Mennonite communities for example, of similar communities of what Blacks can accomplish.

The late Nipsey Hussle was building a community.  Sanders says he is using a similar method as Nipsey to inspire change and hope in Blacks. He is showing that ownership and vertical integration within a company’s supply chain is imperative for growth.