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In a project of milestones, a key piece is diversity of work force

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Tom Webb says Skanska worked to introduce diversity goals into the Panasonic project in Newark. Then, the company went on to exceed them.
Tom Webb says Skanska worked to introduce diversity goals into the Panasonic project in Newark. Then, the company went on to exceed them. - (AARON HOUSTON)

With its 12 stories piercing downtown Newark's skyline, Two Riverfront Center is turning heads — and not just for its striking glass-and-aluminum curtain wall fašade.

The $55M high-profile construction project and future home of Panasonic's 340,000-square-foot corporate headquarters on McCarter Highway is garnering attention for being on schedule and on budget, but there's another notable fact, as well — the project is exceeding its work force diversity goals.

According to Skanska, the construction management company overseeing the building's core and shell construction, 13.7 percent of the subcontractors hired for the project are businesses owned by women, and 15.2 percent are Brick City-based, easily surpassing the diversity goals of 7 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

"The city of Newark, Skanska, and our client — Matrix/SJP Riverfront Plaza Urban Renewal LLC — each shared the common desire to include local firms in the Two Riverfront Center project," said Tom Webb, executive vice president and general manager for Skanska USA's greater New York and New Jersey region, who oversees the diversity initiatives on this project. "We worked closely with our client to introduce diversity goals into our contract."

Josloff Glass Co. LLC is one of those subcontractors.

Founded in 1903 by Ezra Josloff and now run by his granddaughter, Alberta Josloff, and her son, Ian Josloff, this Newark company of about 75 is the epitome of what Skanska looks for in local and diverse subcontractors: reputable, qualified and looking for a leg up.

Companies like these "can't compete on the big projects. We break down many of the trades into smaller pieces," Webb said. "By breaking down segments of the project, whether it's electrical or carpentry, it enables the smaller contractors to compete, and the more competition you have on a project the better. You never know the diamond in the rough you're going to find."

Under normal circumstances Josloff wouldn't have been part of a high-end project such as Two River Center, said Ian Josloff. The architectural glass and metal contractors are no stranger to large projects, having installed much of the new interior and exterior glazing and façades at Newark Liberty International Airport, MetLife Stadium as well as the project that started Newark's construction boom, the Prudential Center.

"We've done some larger work, clearly, but an entire glass tower like Panasonic is a little different," Ian Josloff said. "When you get into very large numbers, you need to have both financial and bonding capabilities. That's where sometimes it becomes challenging. If you haven't done a job of that scale previously, how do you legitimize you can do it?"

Recognizing the obstacles small subcontractors face, Skanska makes a habit of collaborating with those in the communities in which it works to help increase the number of opportunities available to them, Webb said, citing examples such as job fairs, prequalification assistance and Skanska's Construction Management Building Blocks program.

"It's more work for us initially to manage the process (of hiring diverse and local subcontractors), but what we have found is that it pays itself back manyfold, in terms of productivity and savings as well," Webb said.

That helped Josloff land a $2 million contract for the exterior glazing of the lobby, ground and first floors. The rest of the glazing contract went to a larger firm that could afford the hefty bonding insurance that came with it. Ian Josloff is appreciative to receive a portion of the work, not just for the cachet of being part of such a high-profile project, but because it's local.

"Many of us have been in the city for many, many years and times when things were not so great in Newark, before the building started," he said. "You like to see the same people, who invested in the city, reap the benefits of the development going on in the city."

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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