May the best contractors win

Diversity summits emphasize civil rights in context of XpressWest development

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

Over the past three months, minority business organizations in California and Nevada have met in high-speed train diversity summits centered on the prospect of the $6.9 billion XpressWest train project planned between Las Vegas and Southern California.

Meetings were held in Victorville and Palmdale, Calif., two stops along what eventually could be a high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

This week, a similar gathering pulls into Las Vegas, and local organizers are hoping it will be the best-attended summit of the series.

The all-day event is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Plaza downtown as part of a three-day Black Business Expo that runs Wednesday through Friday.

Ironically, a meeting about high-speed rail is taking place at a hotel that later this year will include a construction zone for a train station that will serve a traditional train system for the X Train party train.

The Las Vegas version of the summit has the potential to be the best of the series because it will be the first to have a representative of XpressWest on the program. (Full disclosure: I will be a panelist in the program and was an unpaid speaker and panelist at the events in Victorville and Palmdale.)

Chief Operating Officer Andrew Mack is scheduled to make the keynote presentation at the event. Mack recently updated the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority about the status of the project — mainly, that the company is still awaiting word on a $5.5 billion loan from the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program, overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration.

It’s possible XpressWest will have updated information about the loan request. The company has been waiting for a response since it submitted its application in December 2010. But it is the largest application in the history of the RRIF program, so the company expects massive due diligence.

Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV, also is on the program and is scheduled to discuss some of the economic impacts and opportunities of a high-speed rail line linking Southern Nevada with Southern California.

As business gatherings go, the previous summits have shown that these events aren’t like traditional business networking mixers.

In addition to the educational component — learning about the project and its economics and how to access capital and bond markets — there is a greater emphasis on social action and civil rights.

The Palmdale event had specific sessions on the role of black newspaper publishers and clergy in assuring minority access to business contracts.

XpressWest will be responsible for following regulations to ensure equal access for minority contractors, but one of the messages I offered in Victorville and Palmdale is that in this post-recession era, it’s important for every contractor to bring their A game if they expect to win a bid.

All businesses were hurt by the economic turmoil, and minority contractors can’t rest on equal opportunity laws to win contracts. They have to be the best.

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