Princeton creating opportunities for small businesses, including diverse-owned firms, to grow through campus construction projects

Written by
Frances Hannan, Facilities
Nov. 15, 2023

Princeton is using a new model for campus construction projects that partners large design and construction firms with smaller ones to help increase the number of businesses, including those that are diverse-owned, that have the needed experience and scale to bid on future capital projects at the University and elsewhere.

The joint venture partnerships are the latest example of how Princeton is increasing its spending with diverse-owned suppliers and creating business opportunities that have impacts well beyond campus.  

Two major capital projects now underway — Hobson College and the new School of Engineering and Applied Science complex  — are utilizing joint venture partnerships. To ensure meaningful engagement, the partnering firms create a new legal entity to contract with the University, which allocates percentages of work across the firms. The model allows smaller firms to build capacity, gain experience at Princeton and grow.

The hope, according to Associate Vice President for Capital Projects Dozie Ibeh, is to increase competition and opportunities across the design and construction field. 

“Princeton is viewed as an institutional leader,” Ibeh said. “If we’re able to do this, I hope that others are inspired and join us in this journey of trying to increase diversity in the design and construction industry.”

Part of the University’s diverse suppliers initiative

The University adopted a Supplier Diversity Action Plan in 2021 to broaden the pool of suppliers who work with the University, including more diverse-owned businesses (those that are certified women-, minority-, LGBTQ+-, or veteran-owned). The plan built upon an existing supplier diversity program established in 2015 in the Office of Finance and Treasury.

Princeton’s Supplier Diversity Action Plan does not dictate who should be hired, but rather gives guidance to improve competitive purchasing practices and strengthen supplier capabilities. University departments are required to engage in a competitive bid process for all purchases over $10,000, and competitive bids are recommended for purchases or contracts of lesser value. Expanding the pool of qualified suppliers and contractors seeking to do business with the University makes the bidding processes more competitive.

The Princeton Facilities Organization, which oversees the design and construction of new buildings in the capital plan, is looking at a variety of solutions to increase competition and expand the pool of businesses to potentially provide services to the University, said Vice President for Facilities KyuJung Whang.

The current Princeton Capital Plan is the largest in the history of the institution and spending with diverse-owned firms in design and construction accounted for about one-quarter of all capital expenditures in the most recent fiscal year.

“By growing the pool of firms Facilities works with, Princeton can be a supportive partner to all representatives who do business with us through this initiative,” says Whang. “That can be a catalyst to change how they work with other clients in the region and across the country.”

How joint venture partnerships work

in caption

Pete Valianatos, Division Vice President, Whiting-Turner; Chidi Uzoije, Vice President of Construction, Pride Enterprises; Jaclynn Pelech, Project Manager, Whiting-Turner; Craig Williams, CEO, Pride Enterprises; and Dozie Ibeh, Associate Vice President of Capital Projects, Princeton, at the ES and SEAS construction site. (Photo by Nicole Guglielmo)

The joint ventures allow partner firms like McKissack & McKissack and Pride Enterprises to gain more experience with large-scale capital projects.

Pride Enterprises, a 30-year-old, second-generation minority-owned general contractor, is working with Whiting-Turner on a portion of the new complex for Environmental Studies (ES) and the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).

Pride Enterprises is also part of Turner Construction Company’s team to build Hobson College. McKissack & McKissack, the oldest minority-woman-owned professional design and construction firm in the U.S., is also part of Turner’s Hobson College team. 

“Partnerships like these are paving the way for companies like ours to play the leading role on projects of scale in the future,” CEO of Pride Craig Williams said. “These projects are not small. Historically, they would be beyond the reach of a company like Pride. Connecting with Turner Construction on Hobson College and Whiting-Turner on SEAS really brings us into a tier of the industry that it would have taken many more years to reach.”

Both joint venture partnerships led by Turner and Whiting-Turner grew out of a May 2022 action forum hosted by Facilities. The goal was to bring together leaders from the design and construction industries to brainstorm ways to support more opportunities for small businesses, including diverse-owned firms.

At the time, Whiting-Turner had already been awarded the bid for pre-construction services of the 665,700 gross square foot ES + SEAS complex. Through the new joint venture model, the firm brought on Pride Enterprises as a partner for the SEAS portion of the project. Employees from the two firms work as one team on the project.

“The joint ventures bring a different perspective on the project overall,” Whiting-Turner Project Manager Jaclynn Pelech said. “Everyone has different backgrounds, experiences and skills from different projects that they’ve been exposed to and that’s been very beneficial to us as a project team.”

Turner Construction, which had been awarded the Hobson College project, formed a joint venture with McKissack & McKissack and Pride following the May 2022 action forum. The firms say they share similar company culture and values. This, coupled with an existing, positive working relationship allowed for successful team formation.

“Being embedded in these teams is getting us acclimated to a new level of construction,” Williams said. “The construction process is consistent regardless of scale. But as you scale up, there are tools, software, management strategies that are different as the projects get larger and more complex.”

The leaders across the two joint venture partnerships also said the teams' various experiences and skills sets are contributing to growth and problem solving and providing opportunities for all the firms to work with new technologies and building materials.

“We are looking forward to this being a benchmark project for Princeton University,” said McKissack & McKissack’s Senior Vice President for Strategic Development & Operations Dean Robateau, who also envisioned opportunities for growth beyond Princeton. “We are not doing this just for the sake of a feel-good moment. This building is going to have beneficial use and occupancy for many decades, and we intend both as a team and as individual firms to continue to pursue all the opportunities that exist at Princeton.” 

Members of the joint venture partnership leave the construction site.

Members of the joint venture partnership walk the ES and SEAS site. (Photo by Nicole Guglielmo)

Growing opportunities beyond Princeton

“It doesn’t end with this joint venture,” Robateau added “We see this as an opportunity individually and collectively for Pride and McKissack to sit down and say, ‘Why don’t we go in on [another] project together?’”

“Nothing would put an exclamation mark on this more than to see Pride be awarded a contract directly with the University,” Whiting-Turner Division Vice President Pete Valianatos said. “They have been through this process with both us and our peers at Turner. Now Princeton has one more entity they know they can trust and go to.” 

Princeton and the firms involved in the joint ventures see the partnerships as a way to grow competitiveness in the industry and long-term relationships for future projects. Partnerships are one way to create pathways to larger scale projects for diverse businesses and elevate representation in the industry. 

“The impetus for initiatives like joint ventures is to really catch up as an industry with our inclusionary efforts, making sure that we're gathering the best and the brightest at the table to make good decisions for our clients,” Turner Construction Vice President Dexter Hendricks said. "Diversity is one of the things that makes that happen.” 

Architectural partnerships also part of capital plan goals

The Office of the University Architect is also using the current capital plan to encourage diversity and improve competition among architectural firms. With a partnership model, diverse and emerging architects can work together with more established firms at a critical juncture in their careers.

“It’s very promising in the next few years that new talent will continue to emerge,” University Architect Ron McCoy said. “We want to find people who are entering into the profession, who we can help make a difference on the new generation of major projects.”

Even before Facilities introduced the joint venture model, McCoy said his office oversaw partnerships between architecture firms. Often there will be an architect of record — a larger firm with the capacity and legal responsibility for completing the project — and the associate architect which works closely on the execution of the design, McCoy explained.

PAU, a minority-owned architectural studio based in New York, was selected as the associate architect to lead the design of Hobson College. The eight-year-old studio is led by Vishaan Chakrabarti and Ruchika Modi, who have 50 years of experience between them. PAU teamed with Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company, the architect of record. Hobson College is named after Mellody Hobson, a Class of 1991 graduate, and will be the first residential college on Princeton’s campus named after a Black woman.

“Even though we're not officially a joint venture, we do very much view our project team as a deep collaboration,” Chakrabarti said. “What I saw throughout this process was that, as a consequence of the diversity of our backgrounds, we approached the project differently in a substantive way.”

This model, which has included a variety of firms as associate architect or design architect, has been used on such projects as the Princeton University Art Museum and will be the model for other future projects.

“With every project we do in the future, we will continue to explore creative ideas to increase participation,” says Ibeh. “These efforts will represent how we do business moving forward and will not be an appendage or additive; it will simply be what we do.”