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EMpowering Trice Construction to build on their success

This story is an excerpt from BMO’s 2022 Sustainability Report. Read on to see how BMO EMpower helped Stephanie Hickman transform her family’s construction business into a prominent infrastructure contractor. 

Starting a business is challenging even under ideal circumstances. It’s another thing entirely to build a successful business in the face of structural inequality. But that’s exactly what four Chicago brothers did in 1967, when they founded Trice Construction Company. “They were young Black men with growing families, starting a business at the height of the civil rights movement.” Says Stephanie Hickman, daughter of one of the founders and Trice’s owner, “Imagine the audacity!”  

For 40 years, Trice focused on residential construction. Stephanie, meanwhile, became a corporate attorney, and was doing work for a utility company when her uncles retired in 2007. “I immediately realized there was a great opportunity to take what my family built and move it to another level,” says Stephanie, who transformed the business into a prominent utility infrastructure contractor. 

That ability to be agile makes small and midsize businesses (SMEs) an essential part of a thriving economy.

“SMEs create two-thirds of new jobs and deliver 43.5 per cent of the United States’ GDP. They’re also innovators. To be successful, SMEs focus on creating new products or services; hence, they can adapt faster to changing market requirements.” 

– Levoi Brown
Head of BMO’s Economic Equity Advisory Group

Stephanie’s deep understanding of those market shifts gave her the confidence she needed to adjust her business model. “I could see the opportunity very clearly. There were years of work ahead, because utilities were working with aging infrastructure,” she says. She’d also observed that many corporations were increasing supplier diversity. “I knew we could make an immediate impact, and it would help the company grow.” 

As a Black woman business owner in the construction industry, Stephanie was a rarity, and she worked hard to carve out a space for Trice.

“I don’t let people deter me, but I have faced very real challenges from an economic standpoint, particularly in gaining access to capital and resources. And you can’t scale if you don’t have access to capital.”  

– Stephanie Hickman
Owner, Trice Construction

As Trice grew, their financial needs became more complex, and their financial advisors recommended connecting with BMO. Stephanie had known Levoi for years, and she asked him about BMO EMpower, an inclusive economic recovery initiative that addresses key barriers faced by minority businesses, communities and families. 

“Stephanie is the prototypical candidate for EMpower,” says Levoi. He quickly introduced her to Chardai Johnson, Senior Vice President & Director, BMO Commercial Bank, who was uniquely positioned to lead the relationship with her expertise in mid-market, minority-owned construction companies. 

BMO has since earned the full banking relationship with Trice.

“We make it unnecessary for clients to go outside BMO for any financial services. It’s a holistic approach – understand our clients’ needs, and fill in gaps wherever possible.” 

– Chardai Johnson
Senior Vice President & Director, BMO Commercial Bank

“It’s good to have partners like BMO who understand our mission and objectives around growth,” says Stephanie. “BMO makes a compelling proposition in terms of access, relationships, and the breadth of services we can access through the bank.” 

As Trice grows, they’ve remained loyal to their community on the south side of Chicago. “We can make a positive economic impact by hiring local people,” Stephanie says. Studies show that minority-owned businesses are more likely to hire employees from minority groups. “Hiring practices by firms like Trice help remove structural economic barriers, and directly address wealth and employment opportunities in underserved communities,” says Levoi. 

As Stephanie looks to the future, she’s excited for the role Trice will play in a thriving economy. “There are years of utility infrastructure work that have to happen. We expect significant growth in 2023 – and beyond.” 

Learn more about BMO’s commitment to breaking down the barriers that prevent businesses from accessing financial services through BMO EMpower

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