Gasperec Elberts Consulting Designs a Bright Future with Assistance From Illinois Tollways Partnering For Growth Program
After launching a small engineering firm in 2017, Lisa Gasperec and her business partner, Megan Elberts, landed several contracts with the Illinois Tollway, working as subconsultants on projects that helped their four-person firm begin to grow.
But they were still working to win their first Tollway job as a prime when they learned in 2021 of a new Tollway initiative designed to offer more opportunities for small and diverse businesses to manage projects as prime contractors while still providing them with any needed assistance.
The Partnering for Growth Program reverse partnerships allow smaller firms to serve as prime consultants and contractors on agency contracts by partnering them with larger, more experienced firms they can turn to for any help they may need to complete the work required in the contract.
“This was something different and exciting we wanted to try,” said Gasperec, a civil engineer, recalling how she and Elberts believed the initiative provided them a new way to achieve their goal of working as a prime consultant on a Tollway project.
It turned out to be a good decision – their firm, Gasperec Elberts Consulting, later that year won a $3 million Tollway contract to serve as a prime consultant providing systemwide construction management services. As part of that contract, their firm brought in a larger, more established business, TranSystems Inc., to serve as both mentor and subconsultant and to provide any guidance or direction Gasperec might need.
“By participating in a reverse partnership, I’ve been able to understand all the expectations of the Tollway, whether it’s technical work, outreach, or working with contractors and various municipalities.” Gasperec said, recounting how her firm has overseen repair work on Tollway bridges and roadway lighting. “The most recent work order we have on that contract is a repair project on three bridges. As a result of the reverse mentor-protégé relationship with Lou Beugnet of TransSystems, I’m able to manage that one on my own, knowing all the details of running a Tollway project.”
Their success with that contract is part of a path that has seen Gasperec Elberts Consulting take on work with the Tollway and other agencies, growing from a small start-up into a thriving small business with 17 full-time employees, providing construction management and design services for roadway and bridge projects across Northern Illinois.
Gasperec credits some of their growth to working with the Illinois Tollway—since opening its doors the firm has worked as a subcontractor on seven Tollway contracts, as well as its winning its first prime contract.
“I think the Tollway is a big proponent of small businesses and women-owned firms like ours, and I think it’s played a big role in our growth,” Gasperec said.
She’s pleased with the results of her company’s participation in the Partnering for Growth Program, both as a subconsultant on previous contracts and in her current prime mentorship. Gasperec Elberts has served as a subcontractor on three Tollway contracts as part of the Partnering for Growth Program.
The Illinois Tollway’s Partnering for Growth Program encourages prime consultants and contractors to assist firms, and firms in remaining self-sufficient, competitive and profitable businesses. The program pairs smaller, diverse businesses with mentoring firms that have experience doing Tollway projects, helping them gain experience in following Tollway protocols while also learning new skills along the way. Launched in 2007, the program has been expanded to support construction firms, professional engineering services firms and most recently the reverse mentorship opportunities for small firms to work as primes. Altogether, about 50 firms participating in the program have advanced from subs to primes on Tollway contracts.
Adding reverse mentoring opportunities to the Partnering for Growth Program is “a twist on an already successful concept,” and has already led to more than 10 reverse partnerships, said Terry Miller, Chief of Diversity and Strategic Development for the Illinois Tollway.
“We’re all delighted when a small firm gets it first job as a prime,” Miller added, “but we need to leverage that to their advantage so they can learn something--not only just how to be a prime, how to execute at a high level--but maybe a chance to learn something that they haven’t learned before.”
That’s where an experienced subconsultant or subcontractor plays a role, providing instruction in technical or management skills the prime consultant hasn’t yet mastered.
“Even though they’re a subconsultant, these larger firms can still allow the small prime for the first time to actually learn something about an area where they wouldn’t have robust experience,” Miller said. “It gives them a chance to learn something new, while also serving as the prime, which means they’re in charge.”
For Gasperec, a key benefit of the program has been helping her become more familiar with the agency procedures she is required to follow and the Tollway staff she works with to keep her projects on schedule. But it’s also been helpful in working within the Tollway’s online e-Builder system to manage construction and design projects.
“The program has really helped me understand who the key players are at the Tollway so that when an issue comes up during construction that has to be solved at a moment’s notice I can now call those people,” Gasperec said. “By knowing the key people at the Tollway, issues can be resolved quickly to keep the construction schedule moving and everyday activities keep moving along to finish the project.”
Looking ahead, she’d like to have her firm serve as a mentor to another small business in the Partnering for Growth Program.
As we continue to grow and move forward, I’d love to be a mentor,” Gasperec said. “I think my almost 30 years of experience is helpful and I love training young engineers.”