Some branches of the US government have stated goals that at least 70% of subcontracted dollars on any federal construction jobsite should go to small businesses. This goal is one that the Hilo Air Traffic Control Tower Renovation project, located far from any urban center on Hawaii’s Big Island, was well placed to meet. PCL as the general contractor was able to exceed the 70% goal, with 90% of subcontracted work going to small businesses such as Big Island Electric, a small but full-service electric contracting company.
The newly built engine generator shelter at the Hilo
Air Traffic Control Tower on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Curtis Tiritas, PCL project manager, and Kristy
McKellen, operations manager of Big Island Electric.
Working in the Zone
The US government helps out small business in a few ways: The HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zones) program helps small businesses in economically distressed communities gain access to federal contracts. The Big Island of Hawaii as a whole is considered a HUBzone, so PCL encouraged Big Island Electric to register for the program, and the contractor is today a registered HUBzone company. Big Island Electric is also a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), making it eligible to compete for specified federal opportunities. To qualify for WOSB status, a company must be primarily managed, and at least 51% owned and controlled, by a woman or women who are US citizens.
Planning for Precision
Kristy McKellen, operations manager and the major partner at Big Island Electric, says the entire process, including planning and scheduling, was a valuable one for her company. “On this project,” she said, “we had lots of in-depth discussions with the airport authority before work even began.”
PCL Project manager Curtis Tiritas elaborated, “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) specifies electrical requirements that are often quite detailed, for good reason, and Big Island Electric was very strong in putting it all into place. We had a shared vision and a common goal.”
Daily scheduling and contingency planning became the norm when the project moved into a critical phase: the team was moving power components from the control tower to a new utility building, where components could be brought online. During this transition the tower had to function exactly as before with no unintended outages, any of which would have disrupted air traffic and brought an immediate end to the project. As the only subcontractor working on the tower phase of the project, Big Island Electric made sure everything went smoothly.
“All in all, it was a challenging project for us,” says McKellen, “but working with Curtis and PCL made it all come together. We look forward to working again with PCL.”
Big Island Electric gained valuable FAA experience and has since gone on to work with the US Army Corps of Engineers, another organization that is invested in bringing smaller contractors to the fore in the construction world.