When J.R. Fleming arrived at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the first session of the Turner School of Construction Management in 2018, he was feeling skeptical. “I wondered if it was going to be smoke and mirrors,” he says, because as a community activist he hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the University. “And then I was completely blown away. This program put me in the position to go from protesting the University of Chicago to promoting it.” Fleming is the co-founder and director of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to creating and preserving affordable housing, reducing blight, and providing construction jobs and job training.
“This program put me in the position to go from protesting the University of Chicago to promoting it.”
The free, seven-week program, co-sponsored by UChicago, is an intensive workshop designed to help minority- and women-owned construction businesses grow and succeed. Participants learn from industry experts about every aspect of running a construction business; Fleming says he and his team at the campaign’s construction arm, CAEC Marketing Consulting and Development Group, are now much better equipped to manage everything from setting construction schedules to completing RFPs to having the right bonds and insurance in place for each project. “When you’re a carpenter, you know how to do that work, but you take on all these other responsibilities when you start your own company,” he says. “This program sets businesses up for success. And because of what my team and I learned, more affordable housing work is going to get done in Chicago.”