CALMENTOR: THE BUDDY SYSTEM THAT MAKES SURE NO BUSINESS IS LEFT BEHIND
District 7 is leading the way with a program that brings small and large businesses together for the benefit of all.
At the First Annual Calmentor luncheon last month, participant businesses and State officials had nothing but praise for the District's new program.
Under the Calmentor program, started in District 7 approximately a year ago, large and small businesses work side by side to fulfill the program's mission, i.e., “to increase the pool of small businesses participating in transportation projects.”
Judging from the many testimonials delivered at the luncheon, and the fact that there are now 15 mentors (large companies) and 23 protégés (smaller firms) participating, the program appears to be on track to meet its objectives.
Calmentor, in its broadest interpretation, functions as a kind of matchmaker between mentors and protégés and then monitors the relationship to ensure that each party is fulfilling its contractual obligations.
“Initially, small businesses were suspicious of large businesses’ motives and large businesses thought it would be difficult to quantify benefits to them,” said Alberto Angelini, Chief of Consultant Services and leader of the team that developed the Calmentor program. “In the end, they could all see benefits because of the increased cooperation and opportunities it creates.”
The basic structure of the program is: the protégé submits an application; the potential mentor and protégé meet and interview each other and then reach an agreement on areas of support and development; they draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) setting forth goals and objectives, a game plan and a mentoring duration. The “couple” periodically review milestones in their MOU and file those reviews with Caltrans. Accomplishments are celebrated at an annual meeting.
Speaking at the meeting, Business, Transportation and Housing Agency Deputy Samuel Wallace called the event “momentous for the entire State, but also for Governor Schwarzenegger, whose goal is revitalizing, re-energizing and reinvigorating” the business climate in California.
Over the next four years, there will be an increasing number of challenges and opportunities, Wallace said. “We truly have a job to do to grow the construction industry and infrastructure firms and to get the word out that Caltrans and the State are open for business.”
Beyond the mentoring program, there needs to be more outreach to communities to show members a career path with Caltrans, he added. “With partnership enterprises, we reach out a hand to someone, and they reach out a hand to someone else.” Wallace also pointed out a need to train more engineers. “People like (District Director) Doug Failing don’t grow on trees.”
Rubina Chaudhary, with protégé firm MARRS Services, said “District 7 is truly a visionary agency.” MARRS had been in business for 13 years, and had sought out mentors at various times. “The difference with this program is the mentors’ commitment.”
But District 7 is not keeping its winning formula all to itself. With the Governor’s Executive Order encouraging small businesses in California, other Caltrans districts have taken notice and have expressed interest in starting their own programs.