When Mel Gravely was deciding where to headquarter his business, his vision to impact the Black community led him down an unconventional, but brilliant path.
The Cincinnati civic leader and CEO of TriVersity Construction—one of the region’s largest privately held companies, bypassed the city’s thriving central business district to move into a historically African-American neighborhood called Walnut Hills.
“We bought a building that was dilapidated. It hadn’t been used since 1973. It’s on a two-block long, one-way street—not the ideal location. My executive team thought we were absolutely crazy, but we put our headquarters there because we wanted to make an investment in that community,” Gravely told ESSENCE.
Gravely’s decision to locate his business in the neighborhood is consistent with his overall business methodology centered on philanthropy, supporting local economies, and bridging the wealth gap for communities of color.
“The Walnut Hills community has adopted us. There were all these fledgling restaurants and bars opening up in the neighborhood, and we wanted to make sure we ate lunch and had happy hours there,” he said.
Gravely and his team are happy with their choice of location. “Was it the best fiscal deal in the world? Probably not. But the ripple effect to the community—I think, is lasting, and for us, that’s important.”
While he can’t singlehandedly resolve the myriad discriminatory practices that have inequitably teetered the distribution of wealth against Black communities in Cincinnati and in cities across the country, Gravely is adamant about effecting change within his realm of influence.
The TriVersity Construction CEO seeks to help build generational wealth within his community by preparing communities of color for lucrative opportunities in construction and mandating diverse contractors for major projects.
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Poor communities of color suffer the most from exposure to environmental pollution and often benefit the least from the lucrative business opportunities created to solve it. Gravely is hopeful that new investments in urban infrastructure will help balance this equation.
Construction is among the essential industries that stand to benefit from the $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act signed into law by the Biden-Harris Administration this year. The landmark investment includes a significant stake in energy-efficient construction and is expected to drive an economic boom in the construction sector.
“I see this as a generational investment in infrastructure. We probably haven’t seen anything like this since Eisenhower’s investment in building interstate systems in the 1950s,” he said.
Developing and deploying the technology needed to build energy-efficient commercial and government-subsidized buildings, will require new technical skill sets in green building, modular construction planning, protective equipment design, and more.
While the tech industry has seen waves of layoffs, the Inflation Reduction Act provides an entry point in construction for tech-savvy professionals willing to pivot industries. “We’re not just talking about building roads and bridges. The Inflation Reduction Act will create sustainable jobs on the energy and tech side of the construction business,” Gravely said.
He says now is the time for enterprising entrepreneurs and workers to explore the vast array of clean-tech career opportunities in the construction industry.
Demanding Diverse Suppliers.
The construction industry is overwhelmingly white and male, and that lack of diversity is mirrored in its supplier base. A typical construction project requires several subcontractors, including framers, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC, drywall, and roofing experts.
While supplier diversity is abysmal across the overall construction industry, Gravely and the TriVersity team employ a minimum of 30% minority suppliers for all projects. “It is not unusual for us to reach 55% to 75% minority contractors, but 30% is the minimum,” he said.
Many construction companies vie for big projects like stadiums and convention centers, but TriVersity has built its stake on mid-scale projects valued at around $25 million. Gravely says the company has chosen this sweet spot for many reasons, one of which is its commitment to supplier diversity. “The projects we pursue are the perfect size for us to contract those jobs to smaller, minority-owned companies,” he said.
By contracting suppliers from underrepresented groups, TriVersity Construction supports an ecosystem of minority-owned businesses and invests in the economic mobility of communities of color in the region.
For Gravely, it’s about reciprocity. Paying it forward is the due he gladly pays for the opportunities he’s been afforded.
“I’ve got to provide a return on investment for the sacrifices I watched my grandmothers make when they worked in people’s homes and took in laundry to provide a better life for my parents, who worked hard to provide a better life for me. I feel a sense of responsibility to help close the wealth gap between whites and blacks particularly, and helping my people thrive,” he said.