August 25, 2020

Commencing Through COVID-19: Clark Celebrates the Accomplishments and Tenacity of Small Business Owners with Virtual Strategic Partnership Program Graduations

Despite a spring dampened by unforeseen challenges and uncertainty, 136 small business owners have emerged as graduates of Clark’s 2019/2020 Strategic Partnership Program (SPP). The executive development course serves as a platform for economic empowerment for entrepreneurs looking to increase their confidence, capacity, and capabilities. This year’s graduates represent a highly diverse and talented cross section of small, minority-, women-, and veteran-owned firms who, despite the pressures of running their businesses amidst a global pandemic, have maintained focus on their professional development in hopes of positioning themselves for a better, brighter future.

In July, Clark honored participants’ perseverance and accomplishments with virtual graduation ceremonies in Southern and Northern California, Seattle, and Bethesda, Md.; SPP programs in Chicago and Kansas City concluded in person in late February. The online format provided a safe way to celebrate graduates’ achievements and afforded greater participation from an impressive roster of special guest speakers, community partners, program alumni, and Clark leaders who gathered to extend congratulations and words of encouragement.

These commencement events marked a long-awaited milestone for many graduates who pivoted to online classes earlier in the year. But more than just the culmination of months of hard work, the ceremonies represented a new beginning for participants who, armed with new skills, knowledge, and confidence, are primed to start the next chapter in the growth of their businesses, including Teresa Luna of Luna Concrete.

Following high school, Teresa and her husband formed Luna Concrete, running the business out of their small apartment. While their business had expanded over time, throughout her career, Luna felt she lacked the educational background and entrepreneurial knowledge that would help her excel professionally. She sought outside seminars and workshops, and in 2019, she secured a spot in Clark’s Strategic Partnership Program. During the Bethesda, Md., graduation event, Luna reflected on how the program has helped position her for the future, noting “I have obtained the tools and professional knowledge that I need for the growth our business. The program has given me more than tools, it has given me the confidence in myself that I was looking for.”

Former SPP alumni and special guest speaker Brenda Vejar also shared Teresa Luna’s experience of gaining needed confidence through the program. She addressed graduates of the company’s Orange County and Los Angeles programs, sharing her own words of inspiration. “I felt so empowered the moment I graduated, and I took everything I learned and grew my business,” said Vejar. “It’s up to you individually what you take out of this.”

When conceived in 2006, the Strategic Partnership Program was intended to provide a transformational learning opportunity to help grow the size, scope, and scale of small businesses and open doors for those firms to join Clark’s pipeline of qualified subcontractors and suppliers. “Participation from diverse businesses enhances Clark’s ability to deliver exceptional projects for our clients,” noted Clark Vice President Kwaku Gyabaah, who served as emcee for the Southern California graduation event. Over the last 14 years, the rigorous program has cultivated hundreds of small business partners who play an important role on Clark’s jobsites. Brenda Vejar’s company, Vejar Construction, is now among those firms. Vejar’s firm was recently awarded a $1.5 million contract to perform drywall installation at Clark’s Cal State Long Beach project.

Honoring participants’ resiliency was a common thread among all graduation events. While the economic impact of COVID-19 has been felt by millions across the country, small business owners are among those most acutely impacted. Despite the heavy burden that many participants faced, students committed to completing the program, and many, such as C.J. Jones of Evergreen Commercial Cleaning, found comfort in the routine of weekly classes. “Our weekly online meetings became a tether to the normal world in a world that was no longer normal,” remarked Jones, who is a graduate of Clark’s Seattle program. “We believed the program would impart knowledge, but I was amazed by the breadth of the topics and the level of expertise. It made each week extremely valuable.”

Dr. Leonard Greenhalgh, Director of Programs for Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College joined graduation festivities in Bethesda, Md. During his address, Dr. Greenhalgh challenged graduates to leverage the knowledge and network they’ve gained through the program to not only succeed in their business, but to “step up” and be a positive force and role model to others in their communities. “Clark Construction has invested in you. It’s a big investment, and you need to take advantage of it.”

Dr. Greenhalgh helped Clark establish the foundational elements of the Strategic Partnership Program in 2006 and has been an ardent supporter ever since. He reflected on the program’s growth and impact over time, saying “Fifteen years ago, I began this conversation about how Clark could make a real difference in the lives of diverse businesses and get them to become a part of the value chain -- they wanted to make sure that you, graduates, knew what it took to be successful in business,” said Greenhalgh. “For me to see what we talked about 15 years ago come to a reality now that is making a difference in your lives, makes me really, really happy.”

This year’s Strategic Partnership Program graduates join Clark’s expanding network of program alumni, which is approaching 1,000 members. Clark Vice President Wes Stith, who helped found the program, is excited for that number to grow. “We have a shared interest and responsibility to show support for small businesses in our community, and industry,” said Stith. “Through this program, these small business owners are rising to the next level and serving as agents for change in their communities, creating a stronger and more equitable economy. I continue to be amazed by their passion, resiliency, and tenacity – this year more than ever.” adds Stith.

Clark is preparing to launch the 15th year of the Strategic Partnership Program this fall and will offer classes in Southern California (Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego) Northern California (San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento) Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City, and Bethesda, Md.