“One of the biggest issues [in the construction industry] is retention—which is why it’s important to have contractors that look like us so we can help people get experience. It’s not an aptitude issue; it’s an exposure issue.”
A man on a mission to create a culture where others can thrive
Jeff Moreland Jr. graduated from college at the dawn of the Great Recession. Degree in hand but few jobs available for young workers, he did what many young people did: he went home. Home, for Jeff, meant working at the family business, Raimore Construction. He never meant to stay long—construction wasn’t how he envisioned his future—but at Raimore, he found a career path filled with mission and purpose: helping other young people of color to thrive.
“One of the things that kept me in the industry was the fact that there was a wealth of opportunity but no representation from people of color,” Jeff says. “I knew a lot of people my age who needed opportunities and looked like me, and I introduced them to what I did because a lot of them weren’t having success finding a job during the Recession.”
But it wasn’t just young people whose lives could change by working in construction—Jeff also discovered experienced workers of color who reached dead-ends in the construction industry because of discrimination and hostility on the job site.
“People can believe this or not, but it can be discouraging to take that first step when you don’t see anyone else who looks like you in successful careers or positions of influence,” he says. “One of the biggest issues [in the construction industry] is retention—which is why it’s important to have contractors that look like us so we can help people get experience. It’s not an aptitude issue; it’s an exposure issue.”
In the U.S., 12 percent of the total workforce is Black, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only six percent of the nation’s construction workers are Black—a stark contrast to the 88 percent of white workers employed in the industry. Systemic racism and discrimination blocked Black Americans from economic opportunities for centuries, and the construction industry is no different.
“More than anything, I think the biggest thing the pipeline needs is representation. Getting our community in the industry is a challenge, but retention is even harder because the culture construction has had for so long still permeates,” says Jeff. “One of the biggest barriers to entry is having people that look like you and understand you. Even if it pays good enough, there’s not enough money for anybody to be mistreated.”
Raimore’s work culture is built on respect and valuing each other like family, and Jeff Jr. sees big opportunities for more Black-owned firms in construction to thrive. The demand for a safe worksite free from harassment and discrimination will only get louder in the years to come, and workers of color are uniquely qualified to meet that demand by starting out on their own, as Raimore did 20 years ago.
The I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project offers the ideal opportunity to launch these new businesses. With more than $100 million ready to invest in small businesses owned by women and people of color, also known as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs), contractors will have the opportunity to gain exposure and experience with ODOT procurement, build capacity and create more jobs.
“This project gives people the time they need to build capacity and pick up new trades. It’s an unprecedented opportunity and we should take advantage of all the resources that will infuse our community and be strategic in how we pool these resources together to help rebuild what was taken from us over time,” says Jeff. “Our equity has already been taken from us in the Albina community, but we can at least rebuild what was lost—even if it’s just a fraction.”
His challenge to the community? “Don’t be scared. We need more entrepreneurship in our community. With so many major projects on the horizon, there’s plenty of work to go around.”