NTTA: Diversity boosts access & opportunity

North Texas Tollway Authority has won IBTTA’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award. But what made the organisation’s focus on disadvantaged, minority and woman business enterprises stand out?
November 3, 2021
NTTA’s business diversity programme has seen impressive, practical results © North Texas Tollway Authority
NTTA’s business diversity programme has seen impressive, practical results © North Texas Tollway Authority

Last year, IBTTA launched its Task Force on Diversity, Social and Racial Inclusion. Its mission is “to listen to the voices of those in our association and society who truly understand and recognise the depth of the inequity caused by racial and social injustice”.

Using their knowledge, IBTTA pledged to “work to implement practices and programmes that contribute to racial and social justice in our IBTTA family and beyond”.

Out of this sprung IBTTA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award, which would be given to “an IBTTA member organisation that makes a significant contribution to advance racial justice, equity, inclusion and meaningful opportunities in society”.

North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) has been named as the first-ever winner of the trophy, for an initiative which has been running for 12 years: a business diversity programme focused on increasing the inclusion of disadvantaged, minority and woman business enterprises (D/M/WBE) in NTTA’s contracting and procurement processes.

Since social and economic challenges disproportionately impact such businesses, NTTA set out to boost access and opportunity, creating a level playing field “for D/M/WBE engagement, fairness, and non-discriminatory contract awards, removing barriers to engaging D/M/WBEs in business opportunities and assisting with their growth and capacity building”.

Numerical spending goals specify a percentage of NTTA contracts that should be delivered or performed by D/M/WBE businesses.

At least 30% of NTTA’s spending in each of the last six years has been with such firms – a key measure of success. It has also “helped a number of firms move from subcontracting to prime roles on contracts in the area”. As a result, NTTA says it is now sought as a resource on how to build diversity programmes and deliver successful outreach events.

These outreach efforts include an on-site monthly ‘Business Chat’ to highlight targeted business opportunities; quarterly vendor outreach symposiums; and other forums throughout the year with contractor associations and advocacy partners on both opportunities and on ‘how to’ sessions aimed at D/M/WBE businesses pursuing contracts.

Two signature programmes are designed to grow the D/M/WBE talent pool. The first is Relationships & Opportunities Advancing Diversity (Road), a mentor/protégé model pairing large prime firms with small subcontractors in complementary disciplines, allowing the sharing of best practice.

The second is the Cooperative Inclusion Plan (CIP), a partnership with Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT) and contractor associations to address the utilisation of D/M/WBEs in heavy highway contracting.

The Business Chat meetings have seen practical successes, including connecting MBE firm Skystream Aerial, which specialises in drone imaging and video data, with national traffic and revenue engineering firm CDM Smith. This unlocked additional project opportunities for Skystream with other primes, NTTA says, including Michael Baker International.

NTTA has set out to boost access and opportunity © North Texas Tollway Authority
NTTA has set out to boost access and opportunity © North Texas Tollway Authority

Meanwhile, the Road programme has also seen results. It paired protégé firm Benchmark Environmental Consultants and mentor URS Corporation (acquired by Aecom), leading to a contract win in Italy within three months. Benchmark enlisted URS to support the project as a subcontractor, using local URS’s Italian regulatory experience through its environmental staff in Milan.

Other Road relationships have resulted in subcontractors partnering with their prime mentor even on non-NTTA projects. “To date, nearly 50 mentor-protégé teams have graduated from the programme and several firms that once participated as protégés have ‘paid it forward’ by becoming mentors in later classes,” NTTA says. “This is the ideal growth path of a Road programme participant.”

Another Road example is Hayden Consultants, a WBE civil engineering firm, acquired in 2018 by GEI, a national engineering and science firm. Before its acquisition, Hayden was a Road protégé to mentor Michael Baker International, which positioned Hayden for prime opportunities with a goal of achieving 75% of prime work in the public sector by 2021.

When acquired by GEI, 70% of its work was as a prime, says NTTA. “Michael Baker’s contributions helped the company grow from a 15-person to a 40-person firm working efficiently with TxDoT and DART,” it adds. Hayden is now a prime contractor and mentor in the 2020-2022 Road programme.

“Multiple opportunities now exist for D/M/WBEs to perform and deliver on heavy highway construction projects,” NTTA continues. “Construction of the Dallas North Tollway and President George Bush Turnpike interchange project was awarded to MBE firm MCM Construction in 2016 with a contract value of about $100 million, truly evident of non-discrimination on contract awards.”

NTTA says early involvement with its staff during project-scope review meetings is important when it comes to advocating for subcontracting and scope. “Unbundling of some project work ensures increased D/M/WBE opportunities exist, with manageable work creating a level playing field for competition,” it says. “Access to procurement forecasts helps in pre-solicitation/pre-bid meetings with vendors, helps clarify project scope and provides a platform for teaming arrangements. This has resulted in the increased utilisation of D/M/WBEs.”

Vendors disappointed in the contract process are not forgotten. Post-award debriefing sessions for companies which did not earn a contract are encouraged “and used to further help establish rapport and an understanding on how to successfully bid for future contracts”.

Goals are set on a contract-by-contract basis, which helps ensure prime contractors commit to D/M/WBE participation and utilisation on NTTA’s projects. The required monthly reporting of project diversity spending and utilisation by primes ensures compliance with the committed diversity goal, NTTA says.

NTTA’s partnership with the North Central Texas Regional Certification agency, a third-party provider of diversity certifications, has allowed prospective applicants to pursue and obtain D/M/WBE certifications at minimal cost, thus eliminating a major barrier to obtaining certifications and expanding available certified D/M/WBEs.

“For example, through our outreach and vendor onboarding efforts, TollPlus secured minority certification, competed against established firms, and won NTTA’s new back-office toll collection system,” the agency explains. “In turn, they are utilising other D/M/WBEs to fulfill the requirements of this contract, a win-win for everyone.”

The new system will process all transponder-based and licence-plate-based toll transactions on NTTA’s network and for other toll facilities in the region, as well as transponder-based parking at DFW International and Dallas Love Field airports.

There is a wider aspect to this and NTTA insists its diversity programme is relevant to the tolling sector as a whole. “The transportation and toll industries are faced with many challenges affecting key stakeholders, including project owners and prime contractors competing for work and the D/M/WBEs that desire to be part of the area’s economic growth,” NTTA points out. Its programme is results-driven, designed to broaden participation, and has outreach, capacity building, contract-specific goal setting and transparent reporting as its hallmarks.

“Feedback from community and business leaders on diversity strategies has been critical in ensuring NTTA is actively enhancing and expanding the social and economic structure of our communities,” it explains. This is not only relevant and applicable to tolling, “but to every industry”.

  • NTTA will be in Anaheim, California at IBTTA’s 89th Annual Meeting & Exhibition to participate in a panel discussion with other Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Award contestants

NTTA diversity programme: in numbers

$1 billion: amount spent from 2009-2020 by NTTA with D/M/WBE firms serving either as primes or subconsultants

130: number of firms which will have graduated from the Road programme by 2022

100: average attendance at monthly virtual outreach events

31%: dollar percentage spent by NTTA with D/M/WBE firms in 2020

120%: amount NTTA’s diversity spending has grown from 2009-2020

IBTTA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Award

To be considered for the award, an organisation’s programme or project must:

  • promote diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racist policies through work in the tolling industry
  • provide professional growth or leadership opportunities for People of Colour through policies, projects, hiring practices or actions
  • demonstrate that it has had a positive environmental and economic impact on historically disadvantaged communities
  • demonstrate an organisation’s procurement efforts to provide partnership opportunities to People of Colour and disadvantaged populations

Submissions for the 2022 award will open next spring.

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