A Business Man with a Plan: Craig Williams on the Future of Diverse Businesses in Philadelphia
running-a-business | Read Time: 3 minutes
By WSFS Contributor | Published: March 2022
Craig Williams, President and CEO of Pride Enterprises Inc. and American Power Electrical Supply Company, has more than 30 years of experience in construction management, getting his start by working for his uncle when he was home from college. After earning his Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Syracuse, Williams helped his father cultivate and develop his own construction business, eventually founding Pride in 1996 and American Power in 2018.
Over the years, Williams has not only been able to retain an experienced local workforce (many of whom have been with Pride Enterprises long-term), he has continued to expand the reach and growth of both companies, contracting with a wide array of organizations such as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Drexel University on large-scale projects.
Recently, Williams shared insights about the business community’s responsibility to establish and improve relationships with diverse companies, and how the right partner can make a tremendous impact on that mission.
Can you talk about how your two companies work together and your inspiration for making the business decision to expand?
We began moving Pride Enterprises into the institutional market and the private sector around six years ago. Around the same time, we started looking into the supply side of construction. Supply is the delivery of a specific good, and engages with the construction process over an extended period of time.
It represented a good opportunity for us, because electrical is a typical part of every project, so each construction project could also provide an opportunity for American Power. In addition, it also enabled us to engage and establish relationships with other, sometimes larger, construction managers, increasing the visibility for both companies and expanding opportunities further. The combination of a construction company and a supply company has created a really interesting and unique dynamic, particularly in the diverse business space.
What does the business landscape look like today for diverse businesses, and what needs to happen for there to be a more equitable and inclusive bidding process?
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) reflects a historic issue of access to opportunity and, to some extent, discrimination. Anchor institutions are trying to expand their offering of opportunities, and DEI is certainly the first step in that process. However, diverse businesses are already under additional stress from historic lack of access, and those are compounded by specific criteria put in place for participation in projects such as bonding and insurance requirements.
For example, when we worked with CHOP, they were very flexible and accommodating in recognizing that diverse businesses face unique challenges. They reached out to us with an increased diversity spend goal, and then worked alongside us and representatives from Philadelphia Anchors for Growth and Equity (PAGE) to meet that goal by easing prohibitive bonding requirements. That kind of flexibility had a great impact on our ability to involve diverse businesses in that project.
What is your advice for diverse businesses — how can a banking partner help them ensure their hat is in the ring?
Diverse businesses should strive to find a bank that ‘gets it’ — that understands you and what you’re trying to do. Many banks are very conservative, and are skeptical of your plans and ability to succeed, and they may not share your vision of where your business can go. Finding a bank that believes in your plan, and offers optimism and experience, makes a big difference.
My relationship with WSFS began through the Chamber of Commerce with conversations centered around DEI, and how the banking community plays a part in that. That led to a series of conversations about both Pride Enterprises and American Power’s business needs.
WSFS embraced our entire business model. They’ve supported and enabled American Power to advance to the next level of development. We’ve also secured a number of projects by working with WSFS, including several anchor institutions such as universities and hospitals (interestingly, all of those things happened during COVID). But overall, transitioning to WSFS expanded our access to capital, and grew our ability to perform those projects.
You’ve worked on a number of high profile projects in the city recently, from Critso Rey High School to the Schuylkill River Park Trail. What’s next?
Philadelphia construction and real estate is in a renaissance. In the next 10-15 years, there is projected to be $25B+ invested in our area, and roughly 25% is earmarked for diverse businesses.
Our companies in particular are excited about upcoming projects with the Navy Yard, Drexel, 30th Street Station, and more. These include our own projects, as well as those with partner construction organizations. Overall, the opportunities over the next few years are tremendous.
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