Calvin Littlejohn | Interview

Crews recently broke ground on Phase One of the V3 Center; this is the beginning of something very big for TRI-Construction’s CEO and Founder Calvin Littlejohn. This project literally hits home for him and we’re proud to partner with Calvin and his team on a world class facility built for the community, and just as importantly, built by the community.  

V3 Center is the project Calvin Littlejohn has been waiting for… for a long time.

Sure, Calvin Littlejohn is running a business. But he is unapologetic, as he should be, about employing, empowering and growing the number of BIPOC and women employees in the local construction trades. Littlejohn’s colleagues and contractors aren’t just building buildings; they’re building communities. And it’s not just happening brick by brick, it’s happening person by person.

“I think as a business owner in North Minneapolis, and as a resident in North Minneapolis, I want North Minneapolis to be a destination place, not a ‘drive through’ place. People are trying to go from one place to the other and just make it through North Minneapolis. No, I want to change that. We must change that! This is a wonderful community and I think the more opportunities, the more amenities, the more business we bring in, the more restaurants you will see… our community starts to change,” he explains.

Littlejohn is the CEO and one of the founders of TRI-Construction. For more than 20 years he has been strategic and intentional as he studies and analyzes his industry to open doors for people of all colors. His passion for his community landed him smack dab in the middle of the V3 Center project. Littlejohn will be the man coordinating the crews who will build this community centerpiece from the ground up.

“Who else is there over in North? For us, it was about how do we be there from the very beginning, understanding the project, helping price the project, making sure from a community standpoint we are getting diverse contractors involved. A lot of it is me picking up the phone and calling in and touching base and making sure that people have the information they need.”

If you think it sounds like a challenging, 24/7 type of job, you’re absolutely right. For one, finding the right Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) contractors, with diverse employee bases, isn’t as easy as picking up that phone and asking folks to come on over to Lyndale and Plymouth Avenues with hammers and tape measures. “Secondly, understanding the capacity of the minority subcontracting community (is key). This project is meant to be a wonderful opportunity for companies to grow and to expand their capacity.”

TRI-Construction, and other BIPOC-owned business, often work to secure contracts on projects where hiring workers of color is a priority. But sometimes reaching those initial goals turns into an impossibility. Smaller contractors have struggled trying to compete with the prices that larger contractors offer. The big fish get the supplies at cheaper rates, allowing them to offer the necessary services cheaper. It’s not an easy business cycle for BIPOC-owned contractors to break.

“Now, if I take a step back and I look at the African American experience, our businesses are very small, right? So, what we’re proposing is your community is only as strong as its business sector. In order to get more Blacks or minorities into the construction trade, we’ve got to bolster businesses. And if we can raise up our Black businesses from a construction lens, you will see a direct hire, direct correlation, a direct relationship, because Black businesses know the Black people that we will hire. They’re individuals from our community, so we will see those numbers rise.”

A September, 2020 Star Tribune article titled “Minority-owned firms seek leading role in reconstruction of Twin Cities”, which featured Calvin and his company prominently, noted a study finding “that just 2.8% of state procurement dollars in the construction field went to minority-owned businesses – and just .02% to Black-owned firms – a far lower rate than the study’s projection based on availability.”

Calvin Littlejohn, alongside V3, will offer a groundbreaking opportunity for hundreds of skilled tradesmen and women of color who will build a beacon of hope and opportunity for the entire northside.

“I think ownership in one’s community is the fundamental foundation of pride, right? When you own part of it, have stake in it, it’s yours. You care about it, you’re vested, you’re protected and you’ll be proud of it. That’s what’s been missing. We’ve had broken promises. People come and talk about developments that don’t happen. They either aren’t built, or they’re built by others. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about V3 is the intent. In North Minneapolis there is a direct, unapologetic conversation about how do we hire more black businesses, how do we make sure there are more African American (men and women) working on this project? I love that direct call to action,” Littlejohn said.

It is almost impossible to put into words the passion that TRI-Construction’s owner has for his community, and for those who struggle to find their niche in an industry that has, for so many years and so many reasons, made it difficult for people of color to breakthrough. But because of people like Calvin Littlejohn, progress is being made. And because of projects like the V3 Center, communities are being built brick by brick AND person by person.

For Calvin Littlejohn, building two world class pools so V3 can offer lifesaving swimming lessons in the heart of North Minneapolis is a personal journey.

“It’s a shame for me to say that I’m a black man who doesn’t know how to swim. This (V3 Center) is needed. Because I didn’t grow up learning how to swim, or knowing how to swim, we’re making sure our kids don’t repeat that. How much are we in the African-American community and minority communities missing out on? So, when this place is open, I can get in and enjoy it! But more importantly, I can start having fun with my family. When people start enjoying water activities, I won’t be the one standing on the sideline anymore,” he concluded.

Check out the video below for the full interview with Calvin Littlejohn.

Are you interested in learning more about V3, aquatic learning opportunities, or staying up-to-date on our 2023 adventures? Click here to connect!

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