On Saturday, I helped cut the ribbon on a new bridge in St. Louis that spans the Mississippi River. It's called the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge--named in honor of our nation's heroes and after one of the Midwest's greatest sports legends--and with good reason.
Early in his career, Stan Musial was a pitcher who'd injured his throwing arm. And, as legend has it, the St. Louis Cardinals were going to release him until the team's legendary GM, Branch Rickey heard about it.
"Don't let him go," Rickey said, "Put him in the outfield, and let's see if he can hit."
Twenty-two seasons and more than 3,600 hits later, Branch Rickey had his answer. Stan "The Man" Musial could hit.
In no small measure, what Rickey did for Stan Musial gets at the heart of what this new bridge will do for the people, and the companies, of the St. Louis area: It gives them a chance to succeed.
Some of them already have. And although we're proud that DOT was able to support about 80 percent of the cost for this project, we're even prouder that a significant portion of the work on this bridge was done by firms that too often don't get a shot at building our nation's infrastructure.
At USDOT, we have a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program that gives small, women- and minority-owned companies (DBEs) an opportunity to be federal contractors. DOT's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization covers the state of Missouri through its Central Region, Small Business Transportation Center, and the people in that office have been busy. Because when it came to the work on this bridge and the highways linking to it, 117 different DBEs earned 246 contracts worth more than $114 million.
This is important because a diverse workforce can result in better ideas, and more successful projects. And, in this case, it did.
For example, BRK Electrical Contractors, a small, minority-owned business in St. Louis, formed a joint venture with one of the region's largest companies in its industry to build the electrical systems for the bridge structure. The project not only allowed BRK to gain valuable experience so they can tackle larger projects in the future; it also helped the city.
You see, BRK was instrumental in figuring out that the electrical system called for in the bridge blueprints could actually be replaced with a much less costly system. As a result, they saved the project a million dollars.
When President Obama spoke in his State of the Union address about building "ladders of opportunity" --helping people who are reaching for the middle class get a leg up-- this is exactly what he meant.
And that's why, at DOT, we will continue taking on projects like this one all across America. And we will continue to ensure that all businesses have a chance to help build the 21st Century infrastructure this nation needs.