CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Black Contractors Group called on elected officials Monday to withhold more than $100 million in public incentives for Sherwin-Williams’ upcoming Building Our Future project.
Norm Edwards, the group’s president, addressed a letter to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish among other politicians. Edwards wrote that the Black Contractors Group wants Sherwin-Williams to do well, particularly considering its wealth as a Cleveland-based Fortune 500 company; Sherwin-Williams is ranked No. 162 on the Fortune 500 list.
But Edwards and the organization also have long wanted Sherwin-Williams to uphold its commitment to have a Black company as one of its key partners. According to U.S. Census estimates, Black residents make up nearly half of Cleveland’s population.
The project, which is slated to cost $600 million, includes a new downtown headquarters at West Third Street and Superior Avenue, as well as a research and development center in Brecksville. Construction on the project is supposed to start later this year.
“That money should be invested to benefit all citizens in Cleveland, not just a handful of businesspeople who walk away making tens of millions of dollars while our firms of color earn peanuts,” Edwards wrote in the letter. “In the end, a handful of businesses gain, while the [citizens] of Cleveland lose. And when the citizens lose, they leave Cleveland. This trend cannot continue. And we are calling on you to stop it.”
Sherwin-Williams spokeswoman Julie Young said in an emailed statement that the attacks against the company are “unwarranted and unsupported by the facts.” Young said Sherwin-Williams has gone through an “intentional, fair and inclusive process” for bringing on minority-owned, women-owned and small businesses.
“We refuse to be bullied by any organization or individual’s effort to intimidate us or to drive the selection of specific firms through the use of coercive tactics,” Young wrote in part. “We will continue to support qualified contractors who demonstrate strong business practices and a consistent track record of success.”
Sherwin-Williams named five minority construction management firms in the middle of September. John Morikis, the company’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, said then that the company understands how the two sites will impact the surrounding communities. Young added Monday that there will be additional opportunities for minority contractors as the project goes on.
“Since the beginning of this project, it has been our goal to involve local organizations, especially those that are minority owned and female owned, throughout the design and construction processes,” Morikis said in a September statement. “We look forward to announcing the involvement of additional minority-owned, female-owned and small businesses as we move forward.”
Edwards said in the letter that the Black Contractors Group “commends” Sherwin-Williams for the effort of bringing on minority firms. He added that his organization looks forward to more minority-owned firms receiving contracts for the project, but that having a Black key partner on board is important.
“Why is this so important? We need those dollars to recirculate in disadvantaged neighborhoods of Cleveland, giving opportunities to more African Americans in terms of jobs and improved quality of life,” Edwards wrote.
Last week, Edwards addressed a letter to DeWine, asking him to “take action and bring this inequitable practice to an end.”
As Sherwin-Williams moves forward, Edwards and his organization are focused and determined to achieve their goal of having a Black partner. Edwards said in an interview with cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer that the organization doesn’t plan on backing down from its stance.
“We want this new tower to beam brightly in our skyline, but it should not be at the expense of the hardworking taxpayers in Cleveland unless the project will benefit all of Cleveland,” Edwards wrote.
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