The Power of a Second Chance
Dallas County and the Azteca-Coverall Joint Venture instill hope in the local community
Leaning against his office desk, John Proctor studied the face of LaMarcus Howard. Slowly lowering an unlit cigar from his mouth, he turned to his accounts manager and told him to give LaMarcus a chance. “The rest? It’s history,” explains LaMarcus, who is a Superintendent on the $15 million Dallas County Elections Operations Facility project, scheduled for completion in May 2020.
LaMarcus openly admits he “made a few mistakes in life and ventured off the path of righteousness.” As a result, he experienced challenges securing a job. It wasn’t until he discovered the Regional Black Contractors Association Foundation (RBCAF) Second Chance Initiative that the trajectory of his life changed. There, he met the Chairman of the Regional Black Contractors Association, John Proctor, who recognized his innate potential and valued his capabilities. John also happened to be President and CEO of Coverall Management & Associates Inc. (Coverall), a Dallas contractor with over 35 years of experience in demolition, excavation, environmental services and construction site management.
“I think destiny or fate brought us together,” LaMarcus reflects. “I was looking for him, and he was looking for me. We just didn’t know it at the time.”
A Strategic Partnership
In 2018, Dallas County began the procurement process for the construction of a new elections operations facility. The two-phase project consolidates the existing three elections operations facilities into one and involves the construction of a 39,000-square-foot office and training space for the Dallas County Elections Department administration and election-facilitator trainees, in addition to a 46,000-square-foot data center warehouse to house over 25,000 pieces of technology-driven election equipment.
Among those interested in bidding for the project was Luis Spinola, former Chairman of the Regional Hispanic Contractors Association and Founder, President and CEO of Azteca Enterprises, Inc. (Azteca). Azteca was qualified to bid independently for the prime contractor role and worked for Dallas County on previous projects such as the Parkland’s Correctional Health Services clinic at Dallas County’s Lew Sterrett Justice Center, the new Parkland hospital located on the northeast corner of Harry Hines Boulevard and Medical District Drive, and various Dallas County job order contract (JOC) assignments. However, Luis approached John and recommended that Azteca and Coverall pursue the opportunity as a team to accommodate the county’s commitment to increasing minority participation at the prime contractor level and to help Coverall, a smaller minority-owned company, enhance its capacity.
“In the fall of 2019, Azteca celebrated its 30th anniversary. Azteca wouldn’t be the established and recognized company it is today had I not been helped by generous mentors at companies larger than my own,” Luis says. “At the time, Azteca was working on another project with Coverall, and I saw the Coverall team’s desire to grow. The elections facility project was the perfect potential opportunity to pay it forward and involve another minority contractor.”
Honored, John agreed to Luis’ proposition, and the 70-30 partnership, Azteca-Coverall Joint Venture, was born.
A Community-Focused Proposal
“Our proposal wasn’t like any proposal the county had ever seen,” Luis says. “It included a deep level of community involvement and workforce development.”
Submitted to the county in May 2018, the proposal was unique not only because a 100% Hispanic-owned and a 100% African American-owned firm joined forces to bid for the project but also because Luis and John proposed hiring RBCAF second-chance workers for project management positions. Typically, second-chance workers are hired only to fulfill general labor positions.
“Azteca creatively teamed with Coverall in an unconventional manner to involve capable but novice team members on this project,” John says.
Winning the Bid
Though John describes Azteca and Coverall’s partnership and proposal as “unconventional,” the county proved confident in the team’s ability to deliver quality results. “Dallas County previously contracted with Azteca on a number of occasions and was familiar with Coverall’s work,” says Assistant County Administrator Jonathon Bazan. “The combination of Azteca and Coverall’s talent and new ideas was exciting, and the county was impressed by the firms’ strong community ties and understanding of our desire to lead the way in opportunity creation for local minority-owned firms.”
What’s more, three years prior, the county changed its criminal background and employee eligibility requirements, facilitating the very type of workforce development proposed by Luis and John. The updated policies promote individualized assessments of qualified job applicants in lieu of blanket exclusions based on applicants’ conviction histories.
After a rigorous solicitation process, the Azteca-Coverall Joint Venture was selected to fulfill the prime contractor role in August 2018.
Selecting the Project Team
Luis and John agreed Azteca would provide project management and logistics and mentor Coverall in delivering job site operations.
“After Azteca-Coverall Joint Venture was awarded the project, I couldn’t wait to call LaMarcus and offer him the position of Assistant Superintendent,” John says. “I knew LaMarcus was prepared for the challenge.”
Upon receiving John’s call in fall 2018, LaMarcus explains he was excited about the offer and recognized and respected the significance of the position. “John told me this was an important project for the county and for Coverall,” LaMarcus says. “I accepted the position fully aware that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I knew that my job performance could potentially open or close doors for other individuals in similar situations. Also, I was just six credit hours away from graduating from Texarkana College and determined to complete my degree while successfully executing the project.”
Luis and John agreed to accommodate LaMarcus’ class schedule and also endorsed LaMarcus’ recommendation that the team hire his friend, Texarkana College classmate and former active-duty military mechanic Cory Pitts to work for Coverall as an Assistant Superintendent.
“I didn’t think I was capable of successfully completing the job, but LaMarcus thought otherwise,” Cory says. “I’m so glad that I accepted his offer because for the first time in my life, I feel as if I’m doing something that truly comes naturally and makes sense to me.”
Azteca’s experienced project management staff, including Ronny Beck, Bull Wood and Senior Project Manager Mike Macaluso, would support LaMarcus and Cory throughout the process through extensive on-the-job training and guidance.
The Road to Success
Though construction didn’t officially begin until December 2018, project planning began as early as 2015 when the county identified the space it intended to transform into its new elections operations facility. Located southwest of the Dallas Love Field airport, off Interstate 35E, the county purchased the former Fingerhut magazine distribution warehouse.
Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole describes her initial skepticism. “I didn’t think this (space) would work,” she says. “When we toured the space, I saw huge skylights, rows of industrial racks stacked with boxes. It took a real visionary to imagine its transformation. The warehouse was like a diamond in the rough.”
In addition to conceptualizing and executing a new vision for the existing space, project leaders had to overcome myriad challenges. Not only were assistant superintendents LaMarcus and Cory being trained on the job, but also, the firms comprising the newly formed Azteca-Coverall Joint Venture had to learn to work together despite team members’ vastly different ages, experience levels and backgrounds. Other trials included navigating a complex permit-acquisition process, discovering an unexpected need to re-level the existing slab floor, and determining how to power more than 22,500 election devices simultaneously, including 4,500 laptops.
Against all odds, the space was transformed successfully and done so in time for the Elections Department to move into its new facility by the December 2019 target date. What’s more, LaMarcus was promoted to Superintendent during the project, and in May 2019, he graduated from Texarkana College with an Associate of Applied Science degree with a concentration in construction technology.
Phase two of the project, which entails complex electrical modifications and upgrades, is underway and scheduled for on-time, on-budget completion in May 2020.
Proud of the “fantastic” facility that resulted from the Azteca-Coverall team’s efforts, John explains his hope that the success of this project will encourage other developers and construction companies, working in both the public and private sectors, to invest in community and minority workforce development by recognizing innate skill sets and leadership potential.
In addition to LaMarcus, Coverall hired and trained 11 RBCAF second-chance workers—10 laborers and one foreman, all for the demolition scope of work.
“Currently, there is a labor shortage in the construction industry,” Luis says. “However, there is a plethora of people capable of filling that void. True workforce development comes down to extending hiring and training opportunities to unexpected individuals.”
Belief in a Collective Vision
Reflecting upon his unforeseen career shift to the construction industry, Cory explains, “Sometimes you don’t think you can do something, but someone else believes you can.” After a short pause he adds, “I’m here because of LaMarcus. It’s an opportunity I wouldn’t have received any other way.”
In many ways, Cory’s observation captures the heart of this story. The elections facility project materialized because larger companies believed in Luis, Luis believed in John, John believed in LaMarcus, LaMarcus believed in Cory, and finally, because Dallas County believed in Azteca-Coverall’s collective vision.
LaMarcus describes the sense of pride he feels walking through the halls of the new facility and how rewarding it was to watch the Elections Department occupy its new office space. However, most gratifying to LaMarcus is his new ability to instill hope in others with backgrounds similar to his own. “One student approached me after I spoke to a group of construction students at a college campus,” LaMarcus says. “He thanked me for sharing my personal experience and told me that I inspired him to pursue his dreams despite his current circumstances. That’s what it’s all about. I’m an example of the power of providing an opportunity to someone who may not typically be considered—the power of a second chance.”