Full speed ahead: Small Sacramento businesses get contracts for high-speed rail

Project helped local firm expand beyond the city

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the January 11, 2018, issue.

Construction on the California High-Speed Rail project continues with an eye toward sustainability and small-business inclusion. Sacramento firms have already seen dividends for jumping on board.

Karen Massie, public information officer for the California High Speed Rail Authority, said there are currently “17 active construction sites stretching between Madera and Kern counties, [with] more sites expected to come on line this year as construction moves south to Bakersfield.”

In 2008, the High-Speed Rail’s board of directors committed to running the system on clean, electric renewable energy, making it a boon for California’s lofty climate goals.

What’s been less publicized is the rail authority’s commitment to mitigating the environmental impact of construction: This includes requiring that equipment meet the highest EPA standards for clean diesel and that contractors divert at least 75 percent of construction and demolition waste from landfills. The authority is also partnering with the California Department of Conservation to preserve thousands of acres of wildlife habitats and agricultural land.

Construction hasn’t been bad for small businesses either. “Hundreds of California small businesses are planning, designing and constructing the high-speed rail system,” Massie noted. “Our Small Business Program has an aggressive 30 percent participation goal by small businesses. … Since implementing those goals in 2012, we’ve paid more than $250 million to certified small businesses who have joined the project.”

In Sacramento, two such businesses are Blackburn Consulting Firm, which handles geotechnical and geo-environmental work for the project, and Laura Garwood, who subcontracts as a technical writer and editor for Westervelt Ecological Services. Both businesses say they’ve seen measurable rewards as a result of their participation in the project.

“The high speed rail contracts were instrumental in opening up our Fresno office and providing workload for the employees there” said Ashley Lokteff of Blackburn consulting. “We’ve hired two full time and three part time staff in Fresno.”

For Garwood, the high speed rail project has not only been a steady source of income but a great opportunity for exposure. “I’m [an independent] business owner, so anyone saying, ‘Hey there’s someone who does this kind of work,’ definitely helps expand my visibility,” she said.