Procore set out to find the companies, projects and individuals that stood out for their bold achievements in construction. Among the 27 outstanding finalists selected, nine were named winners of the 2023 Groundbreaker Awards. This article is the eighth in a nine-part series spotlighting each winner.
In today’s world, there’s a significant difference between businesses that exist purely to earn a profit, and those that strive to have a meaningful impact on the community. GMA Construction Group has set an example as a leader in the latter category.
Founded by Cornelius Griggs, GMA is more than just a construction company. Griggs established the firm’s mission, developing people that will transform communities, as a call to do good for all underserved communities. As the founder, he placed a particular emphasis on the sectors that were missing from his childhood as a ward of the State living in public housing on Chicago’s South and West Sides: education, housing, and healthcare.
Pioneering Positive Change, Starting at the Root
Behind the scenes, GMA is working to reshape the construction industry from the ground up.
“I was blessed in my life to have mentors that helped me overcome the obstacles of my youth. When I started GMA, I wanted to deliver projects in the community that improved the lives of the residents, and I wanted to provide jobs that the folks I grew up with did not have access to,” shared Griggs.
To support diverse youth in construction careers, GMA established the CREATE Program at Austin College and Career Academy and founded the Construction Management Program at Kennedy King College, where Griggs serves as the Program Chair and Professor. GMA’s internal community hiring initiatives also aim to dismantle barriers that have traditionally kept Black and Latinx individuals from accessing opportunities in construction.
GMA works in partnership with established and accredited programs to provide job training, mentorship, internships, and direct hire opportunities. The company’s proactive effort to hire from the communities it serves has led to incredible stories of transformation. Griggs, drawing from his deep roots in communities like North Lawndale, has taken the bold initiative of hiring individuals from conflicting gangs.
“These young men come from the same places I come from. We are trying to stop the violence in our neighborhood. You need good paying jobs, not minimum wage jobs. So we give folks living wage jobs as laborers and carpenters making $60-75 dollars an hour on our sites where they can develop their skills and make an entrance into the industry. This is how you create wealth in the community,” said Griggs.
One notable example of the real-world impact of such strategies was the significant reduction in violence at GMA’s Rauner Family Veterans’ Housing Studio Project, an affordable housing project for previously homeless veterans.
“After talking with the leaders of two gangs that were fighting around the jobsite, we hired an individual from each gang to work on our project. There weren’t any shootings over the two years we were there,” said Griggs.
“Young people need opportunity. You show them a pathway that is different from what they have seen their entire lives. You show them the door, but it’s their job to kick the door in. What GMA is doing is opening the door, we are providing people with that one chance.”
GMA’s impact extends far beyond its hiring practices. The company is deeply involved in community-centered projects that prioritize the well-being and future success of residents.
“We call it a social transaction as much as it is delivering a construction project, like affordable housing,” said Griggs.
These projects often entail renovations with tenants still in place, which demands a strict schedule and keen sensitivity to the residents’ needs. GMA personnel have been known to go above and beyond, from taking a tenant’s laundry to the laundromat to ensuring clean hallways during construction, truly embodying the spirit of community service.
This holistic engagement results in not just buildings, but revitalized community spaces, from counseling centers to a state-of-the-art athletic space for 16 to 25-year olds aimed at keeping kids in sports, and off of the streets. One of GMA’s recent projects, the Auburn Gresham Apartments, stands as a testament to this. Through the Invest South/West Program with the city of Chicago, this $40 million mixed-use housing project was designed with heavy input from the community, ensuring the end result is aligned with local needs and aspirations.
Through GMA’s extensive commitment to its community, the company is crafting a legacy of positive change, one brick at a time.