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Chicago entrepreneur pursues minority business path

Jorge Moreno proves there’s a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time

By David Adams

STORY TOOLS

Jorge Moreno could be a poster child for negotiating the ins-and-outs of public contracting opportunities for minority and disadvantaged business enterprises. A civil engineer, Moreno was working for a successful consulting team on a multi-million midway airport terminal development program in Chicago when he realized he had a golden opportunity to establish an MBE (minority business enterprise) and remain on the program.

“I realized that a lot of these city contracts are set up with MBE goals that have to be met,” he says.

A key consultant was leaving and Moreno knew the program would be faced with a shortfall in meeting its MBE goal. So, he asked to leave the firm but stay on the program management team as a minority-owned business providing similar services. The company agreed and Moreno launched CivCon Services, Inc.

Ten years later, Moreno and CivCon have taken on several major city and state contracts at both Midway and O’Hare airports, as well as on other transportation projects. His company now has 10 employees, and despite the recession, it’s expanding.

Moreno, 47, was born and raised in Chicago, though his parents are from Mexico (father is from Jalisco and mother from Guanajuato). At first, it wasn’t easy building relationships with new clients. But when another large project came up, this time to modernize O’Hare International Airport, Moreno leapt at the opportunity. “I put myself on teams that were pursuing it,” he says.

CivCon was selected as part of the program management contract on behalf of the city of Chicago, overseeing the design contracts, and liaising with the construction manager to make sure the overall project stayed on schedule and within budget. MBE and DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) schemes are designed to ensure nondiscrimination in the award and administration of government contracts. The MBE certification applies to small minority-owned businesses where an individual owners’ net worth is less than $750,000, excluding the value of the owner’s primary residence.

In a place like Chicago, MBE contracting is a competitive field. But Moreno had strong aviation experience. “We felt that we had a niche in airport management work,” he says. “We had developed a very good relationship with the city department of aviation, so we were able to approach consultants, and show we had experience with the city.”

CivCon won a five-year O’Hare contract in 2004, which was extended for five more years. The contract runs until 2014, and Moreno is confident his company’s experience will mean they are kept on until the job is complete.

Meanwhile, he’s diversifying into other areas of transportation work, including construction management and construction inspection services to other transportation agencies for the city of Chicago and state of Illinois, such as the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, and the Illinois and city of Chicago Departments of Transportation.

This year he joined the winning team on a high-speed rail program to link Chicago and St. Louis, 298 miles apart. Once again he will be supporting the prime consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, on a $1.2 billion program funded by the federal government stimulus program. CivCon was also on the winning team with HNTB Corp. for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program designed to alleviate major congestion of freight and passenger traffic in Chicago and the suburbs. With so much new work, CivCon is looking to substantially build capacity and resources this year.

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