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Building Blocks for Bronx’ resurgence

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Home to a development deluge and prepped for more, the Bronx is booming.

Ongoing: a spate of affordable housing projects, Yankee Stadium, the Croton Water Filtration Plant, The BankNote complex and a borough-wide parks overhaul. On the way: Webster Avenue’s commercial corridor and a Kingsbridge Armory mall.

But who’s the Bronx booming for?

“You see so many developers coming in,” Ozzie Brown, Community Board 7’s land use and zoning committee chair, said. “They need to involve indigenous entrepreneurs. Developers need to tap what’s here.”

What’s here is a new program hosted by Bronx Community College – Construction Management Building Blocks, which celebrated its first 32 graduates Monday, November 17.

Sponsored by Skanska USA, a colossal construction firm, the program teaches small business owners how to compete for lucrative contracts.

Brown, like Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., is concerned. He’s seen Bronx development work, municipal and private, offered to plumbers, electricians and carpenters from outside the borough.

‘Jobs for the neighborhood’ is a promise that ambitious developers often make Bronx residents. The truth is more complicated.

“We’ve seen projects imposed on communities,” said CB 7 chairman Greg Faulkner. “And the jobs never materialize. It happened with the Croton filtration plant. There are always excuses, of course – you’ve got no training, you’re not qualified.”

Last year, Brown took a Building Blocks course at City College in Manhattan. He wanted to evaluate Skanska’s program.

“What I had in mind was, ‘Could this help the Bronx?’” Brown said. “The answer was ‘Yes.’”

Bidding for big-time construction contracts requires know-how. That’s where the Building Blocks program comes in. Participants learn technical, administrative and managerial skills. They network and study bidding.

“Most people think that all you have to do to start a business is put up a sign,” Leonard Goodlowe, a 58-year old Building Blocks graduate and plumbing contractor, said. “Forget that. I want to seek out some younger guys – have them enroll in Building Blocks.”

In order to score top jobs, contractors must obtain the appropriate certification. Building Blocks offered Goodlowe and his classmates a wealth of certification-related information.

“People get passed over,” Rufus Van Thompson, a Skanska project manager and the firm’s Building Blocks liaison, said. “You can’t walk onto a site and tell the developer, ‘I want to work for you.’ You need to be certified.”

Skanska USA is one of the world’s preeminent building firms, overseeing the construction of NYC’s new United Nations facility. Last winter, Brown spoke with Skanska about Building Block and a Bronx program expansion. Representing CB 7, he then contacted Carrion. and the Bronx Overall Economic Development Association. Bronx Community College took the program in. Thompson is on Skanska’s diversity council; Building Blocks targets minorities and women.

“We were able to recruit quite a few people,” Brown said. “People from different ethnic backgrounds. People already working in the construction industry, predominan­tly.”

Building Blocks began September 18 in the Bronx and ran every Tuesday and Thursday night for eight weeks. Skanska USA’s executive vice president Steven Pressler and Deputy Borough President Earl Brown spoke at the program’s graduation.

“Training programs like Building Blocks can definitely exert a positive impact the Bronx construction scene,” Thompson said. “What’s important is the follow-up. Going through the program and receiving the knowledge is one thing. Taking your business to the next level is another.”

Skanska will offer Building Blocks again soon, possibly in the Bronx.

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