Author: Jessie Holmes
Vega Construction in Pilot Mountain is a family business in every sense of the word. Owner and president Carlos Vega learned masonry from his father, an expert mason of 20 years, and after he earned an engineering degree, they started the company together in 2018. You’ll find Vega’s wife running administration in the front office and their relatives working at each construction site. Brick by brick, they’ve built a reputation for strong, quality work.
“Masonry products have a high longevity and very low maintenance,” says Vega. “So it makes sense when you want to build a school from taxpayer dollars and you want it to last a long time."
To help ensure his business also remains strong, Vega joined the Construction Business Academy, hosted by the Carolinas Associated General Contractors (CAGC) Foundation. The program offers minority- and women-owned businesses the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills through 12 weeks of classes on topics ranging from finances and construction law to workplace safety. It also provides mentoring and networking opportunities. Vega says he especially valued the chance to make new contacts to help grow his business, and appreciated hearing from business owners who have faced – and overcome – the same challenges.
“If I’m honest, I’m the only person that kind of looks like me when I walk into a room,” says Vega.
He’s one of over 30 business owners to graduate from the program so far, which has included cohorts in the Charlotte and Triad regions, with a third underway in Raleigh. Additional cohorts are planned for 2024 and will include the eastern part of the state. Graduates continue to have access to CAGC resources and technical support for an entire year, along with membership in the organization and a spot in the directory to help advertise their business.
Construction Business Academy Supports Diversity and the Workforce
The Construction Business Academy is free to participants thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Signed into law in 2021 by President Joe Biden, ARPA provided money to local, tribal, and state governments to help recover from COVID-19 and build more resilient economies. North Carolina received $5.4 billion, which was appropriated by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper. The legislation included $3 million for the Academy to address the construction workforce shortage.
“North Carolina has a very strong economy, and because of that there’s a lot of infrastructure being built,” says Betsy Bailey, who oversees CAGC’s Construction Business Academy. “All of these projects take people working on them to get the job done, and that means we need more workers.”
Bailey says a lack of diversity contributes to workforce challenges, and it’s important to bring more people to the table for the industry’s long-term success. That includes supporting existing businesses so they can compete for more projects and hire more people.
“People want to work for a company where they can see themselves,” says Bailey. “We have to create that culture.”
That’s exactly what Melody Compton plans to do. She owns Purified Pros, a facilities management company that also cleans and sanitizes construction sites, and was among the Academy’s first graduates. She says the classes helped take her management and operations skills to the next level so she could scale her business and eventually hire more staff, and help people grow.
“I really wanted to create jobs and create opportunities for the community that I grew up in,” says Compton, a Charlotte native.
She hopes her success and positive experience encourages other minority and women business owners to join the Construction Business Academy and take advantage of the classes and ongoing resources it offers graduates. She even returned to speak at the recent graduation of the program’s Greensboro cohort and share her success.
“Expect to be busy,” says Compton. “Expect to grow.”
Construction Bootcamp Provides Free Training
While the Academy focuses on existing businesses, CAGC is also recruiting and training people new to the field. It was awarded an additional $2.5 million ARPA grant to launch the Construction Bootcamp in partnership with the North Carolina Community College System, which also received $1 million.
The Construction Bootcamp is free and includes eight weeks of basic construction training at a rotating lineup of community colleges. Bootcamp graduates earn industry-recognized certificates, and CAGC helps facilitate mentorships, apprenticeships, and opportunities for immediate job placement. While the program is open to anyone, Bailey says they are specifically marketing to women and minorities, and veterans, to help further diversify the industry.
“The importance of the American Rescue Plan funding for our bootcamps is that we are able to draw people into the construction industry that may not have otherwise considered it as a career,” says Bailey.
Building a Stronger Future
The outlook is bright for North Carolina’s construction industry as more people and new businesses move to the state, along with an influx of federal grants dedicated to infrastructure projects. CAGC’s Construction Business Academy, and its partnership with the North Carolina Community College System on the Construction Bootcamp, will give more people access to the knowledge, training, and contacts necessary to participate in these opportunities.