BUFFALO, N.Y. -- At an age when most young girls are shopping at
the mall or hanging out with friends, Sundra L. Ryce was learning
the construction business.
Ryce says she first became interested in her father's business,
WC Roberson Plumbing and Construction Corp., at age 8; by 13, she
was spending her summers working and learning the family
"It was then that I first became interested in the construction
industry," she says. "I learned from the beginning that integrity
means everything. Having a good, strong business reputation would
be the foundation for future success.
"I saw the value in what my father (Willie Roberson) was doing;
how he built his company, his business ethics and his integrity,
and wanted to reproduce that in my business model," she says.
Encouraged by her father and after earning a bachelor of science
in business studies from Buffalo State College, she founded her own
Now, as president and CEO of SLR Contracting & Service
Company Inc., Ryce heads a general construction company that
recorded more than $28 million in revenue in 2010 and has completed
$150 million in construction work since its incorporation in
One of the company's latest projects is a nearly $20 million
renovation of historic Hayes Hall on the University at Buffalo
South Campus, home to the School of Architecture and Planning.
SLR heads the list of certified minority- and women-owned
business enterprises (MWBE) doing business with UB on major
construction projects on the university's three campuses.
UB has $85.2 million in contracts with MWBE-certified firms --
$54.5 million in contracts with minority-owned firms (MBE) and
$30.7 million with women-owned firms (WBE) -- over the past three
or four years, says Kevin Thompson, director of the UB Office of
Facilities Planning and Design, University Facilities. And that
figure does not include the $19.9 million contract with SLR, which,
he adds, would bring the total to well over $100 million.
"I think we've done a darn good job of getting minority and
women-owned firms and a diverse workforce involved in our
projects," Thompson says.
When UB embarked on its first major construction project
downtown -- the New York State Center of Excellence in
Bioinformatics and Life Sciences -- it set goals for
"participation," or work done on the project, by MWBE contractors
or subcontractors. Those goals of 15 percent participation by MBEs
and 5 percent participation by WBEs were much higher than the SUNY
standards at the time of 3 percent MBE and 3 percent WBE, Thompson
UB achieved its goals on that project, with participation rates
of 19.52 MBE and 7.32 WBE, he says, and the university set similar
goals as it began undertaking other major construction projects,
both downtown and on the North and South campuses.
Those projects ranged from Barbara and Jack Davis Hall and
Greiner Hall on the North Campus to Hayes Hall and John and Editha
Kapoor Hall on the South Campus to the new Educational Opportunity
Center building adjacent to the UB Downtown Gateway, the Clinical
and Translational Research Center (CTRC) and the Global Vascular
Institute, all on the Downtown Campus.
Thompson explains that the percentage goals for MWBE
participation are noted in the bid documents for projects. Low
bidders must present a plan showing how they'll meet those
percentages prior to the contract being awarded, he adds.
MWBE participation in those major UB projects far exceeds the
SUNY standards, which as of Nov. 1 were raised to 7 percent MBE and
4 percent WBE, Thompson points out. For instance, MWBE
participation on the Davis Hall project was 15.2 percent for
minority-owned firms and 6.5 percent for women-owned firms; on the
CTRC project, which is nearing completion, participation is 21
percent and 12.44 percent, respectively.
"UB has gone well beyond the SUNY standards for MWBE
participation in our major projects," Thompson says.
Moreover, although SUNY does not set workforce goals -- the
number of hours worked on a job by minority and female workers --
UB does, striving to achieve a combined workforce on a project of
20-25 percent, he says.
UB has come close to or met that goal on a number of projects,
including the Center of Excellence (26.2 percent combined
workforce), Davis Hall (25.3 percent), Greiner Hall (23 percent)
and EOC (21 percent).
With the exception of SLR, most of the MWBEs with UB contracts
are subcontractors working for majority construction companies,
Thompson says, noting that the university works with the general
contractors to do outreach to MWBEs.
For example, on both the Center of Excellence and the CTRC
projects, postcards were sent to every Western New York minority-
and women-owned business in the construction field inviting them to
an orientation meeting on the projects.
And on the CTRC job, the general contractor, Turner
Construction, held "Turner School," a 12-week course for MWBEs. The
course addressed such topics as cost estimates, billing, scheduling
and preparing a business plan.
"We want to make sure companies don't go into these (UB)
projects with only one eye open," Thompson says, noting that many
of these small subcontractors aren't familiar with the intricacies
of doing business in the public construction realm.
Programs like Turner School are helpful and "build a higher
success rate" for these MWBEs, he says, calling Turner School the
model that UB wants to use to assist MWBE participation when a new
home for the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is built
on the Downtown Campus.
For Ryce, the Hayes Hall renovation is the first UB project on
which SLR Contracting has served as the general contractor. The
firm has been active on other UB construction sites in recent years
and currently is working with general contractor Turner
Construction on the Davis Hall project, providing construction
management services on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing
aspects of the project.
Ryce says Hayes is an exciting and intriguing project for the
company, particularly due to the historic nature of the building.
"We specialize in renovations and new builds, so this is a good fit
for us," she says.
"It's been great to work with UB," she adds. "Everyone's been
generous and helpful; they're working with us as a partner. It's a
pleasure to be part of their team."
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.