Joining Illinois Tollways Partnering for Growth Program helped veteran-owned engineering firm build its success
When he decided to pursue Illinois Tollway contracts in hopes of expanding his two-person engineering firm, Charles Frangos thought it would help to get some guidance from a more established business already familiar with Tollway procedures and projects.
So in 2016, Frangos—a professional engineer and U.S. Navy veteran--enrolled his year-old firm, Orion Engineers, in the Tollway’s Partnering for Growth Program, which pairs small, diverse and veteran-owned businesses working as subcontractors with mentoring firms that have experience working with the Tollway.
Since joining the program as a protégé firm, Orion Engineers has worked on eight Tollway contracts, gaining critical skills and experience while expanding to its current 22 employees, which allows it to take on more work for the Tollway, as well as from other transportation agencies and utility companies.
“Without the Partnering for Growth Program, we would not be able to expand the way we have over the last six years,” said Frangos, who serves as president and CEO of the Chicago-based firm. “We still might be two or three guys working on local projects, so this program really opened up a lot of opportunities to work on large projects.”
Earlier this year, Orion Engineers—named for the type of reconnaissance plane Frangos flew on during his military service—won a $3 million contract to serve for the first time as a prime contractor to provide systemwide design services to the Tollway, including pavement marking and repairs.
Under that contract, Frangos’ firm now will take on a new role in the program and for the first time serve as a mentor providing guidance and advice to a small, woman-owned engineering firm, Urban Hydro Engineering, Inc., that will be assisting with that work.
Frangos said he’s eager to share with another small engineering firm the knowledge his company gained during its tenure in the program, which initially including using Tollway-specific procedures and software, preparing invoices, using the agency’s e-builder construction contract management system and meeting the Tollway’s strict scheduling and deadline requirements.
In other, later contracts, the guidance Orion received shifted into more technical aspects of engineering, which Frangos said helped the firm get pre-qualified by the Illinois Department of Transportation to provide construction and structural inspections, as well as do highway design work.
“Because of the additional pre-qualifications and capacity we were able to acquire through Partnering for Growth, Orion has been able to do work with other agencies as well. We are now serving as a prime contractor for IDOT, Exelon and federal agencies throughout the country,” Frangos said.
Along with helping develop professional partnerships, mentor and protégé firms participating in the P4G program earn bid credits that may give them a competitive edge in seeking future contracts for Tollway work.
The benefits Orion earned by participating in the program also will be part of the message Frangos plans to share as his firm mentors other businesses.
“We have had so much success in the program and we really wanted to share the insights and experiences that we’ve had in the Partnering for Growth Program by becoming a mentor,” Frangos said.
That’s a key goal of the program, as is encouraging more firms to gain the skills and experience needed to work on Tollway projects, which in turn creates a larger pool of qualified businesses the agency can use for future projects.