Release Date: December 15, 2011
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 business.
"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 construction company.
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 1996.
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 says.
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.
In 2019, the SUNY Board of Trustees revoked the naming of John and Editha Kapoor Hall as well as John Kapoor's honorary degree. More information is available in the university’s News Center.