William Bishop helps minorities get started in the construction industry
By Carey Smith
“Believe. Strive. Achieve.” William Bishop IV’s motto has taken him from his roots on Springfield’s east side to where he is today: CEO of Solid Ground Solutions, Inc.
A Springfield native, Bishop graduated from Lanphier High School before earning his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University in 2011, then a master’s degree from Benedictine University in 2013.
After graduating from college, Bishop worked as a construction project manager at Memorial Health System from 2011 to 2013. It was there he came into contact with Tyler Cormeny, vice president of O’Shea Builders, and site supervisor Zach Hogan, and “built a great relationship. We stayed in contact and worked together over the years. The rest is history. Those two guys are my friends. They are family,” said Bishop.
An informal mentorship encouraged Bishop to form his own company in 2014, Solid Ground Solutions, Inc. At first, Bishop and his employees worked in cleaning and housekeeping jobs for hospitals and schools. However, that changed when Cormeny learned of a mentor-protege program, which had been operating in Decatur with the involvement of several community members, ranging from clergy to the Teamsters and Dunn Company, a heavy highway company.
“They talked to us about what they were trying to accomplish,” said Cormeny, “and gave us a copy of what (curriculum) they’d been using that had been successful. I immediately thought of William. I said, ‘Let’s go meet with William and have some intentionality and a system around how we can work better together to grow his business.’”
With mentoring and networking assistance from O’Shea, Bishop began bidding and receiving jobs for interior demolitions and post-construction cleanups, working mainly in hospitals and schools in both Decatur and Springfield, using the same crew and union contracts that his business had already established.
“O’Shea opened up doors for me and helped me to grow my company and myself,” said Bishop. He noted that O’Shea assisted him with estimating, bidding and project management. “Anything to do with the business – they help you and show you everything you need to know,” remarked Bishop.
This success led Bishop to start a program to increase access to the trades for minorities called the Minority Trades Network. Normally, the way into the trades is paved by older family members’ involvement and connections. However, due to entrenched racism of the past, many African Americans do not have that family history or connection, making it nearly impossible to get union jobs.
Bishop said, “It’s an invisible fence that a lot of minorities see, trying to get into different union halls. Older minorities say you’ll never get into the unions or trades. That’s what we’re working on with the Minority Trades Network is getting over that fence, getting them into the meeting hall and introducing them to training coordinators in the union hall.”
Bishop explained that he has employees who worked for years at steady jobs, but only making near-minimum wage. It was the opportunity to break into the trades that gave them union wages and a boost into a middle-class life, and now they are able to invest in their own futures, as well as the futures of their children.
Eighteen people recently completed the Minority Trades Network program, which meets two hours weekly for 12 weeks. Each meeting is held at a different union hall.
Bishop explained, “During the meetings, we go to each local union hall. We meet the business manager and training coordinator, and we learn about union trades, apprenticeship programs and the fringe benefit of each trade. We give them a bridge to the union hall.”
Cormeny stated, “There are great career opportunities in the trades. We need to introduce this to more minorities and get them interested. There’s a network of people who are welcoming and encouraging to make those connections that hadn’t been there before.”
Another group just started the program, which was timed to finish about the time Solid Ground Solutions and O’Shea Builders will begin renovation work at Lanphier High School in hopes that graduates of the program can get right to work. Bishop said his team is currently revamping the application process for future program enrollment and will have a website ready shortly. Until then, contact can be made through Bishop’s website or through O’Shea Builders.
Bishop understands the importance of mentoring, having had many mentors throughout the years, from his father and grandfather to family friends and business partners.
His business mentor, Cormeny, stated that it was natural to invest his time and attention in Bishop. “He has an outstanding attitude, energy and enthusiasm for his business. He’s got a purpose behind the business in how he wants to impact his community and bring people with him. He has a contagious presence. It’s exciting to pour into him and see him continue to grow. Every time we talk to him about an opportunity, he’s all in.”
Bishop stated that his motivation has changed over the years since having children, who are now 21 months and six months of age. “My original motivation came from growing up on the east side, and seeing that we didn’t have opportunities like everyone else. I thought if I could get into a good position, I could help people on my side of town, and all over, to get opportunities I didn’t have,” he said.
“But now, it’s more so toward my kids. Seeing my kids every day and giving them a positive role model and knowing their father is doing something great for the community, that’s my motivation now,” stated Bishop.
As for his legacy, Bishop said, “I hope people look back and say I did my part to make this world a better place. I hope I can continue to give people opportunities to feed their families and make their lives better. If I could do this for another 50 years, that would make a big difference. For some of these guys, it could change their lives.”
Carey Smith appreciates partnerships in the business world that promote equity and social justice restoration, making our community a better place.