Being one of the largest Black-owned construction companies in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast carries responsibility. And Haitian immigrant Hermann Colas, Jr. recognized that from the get-go.
By Rebecca Barrett
It would be fair to say that the construction industry was not as diverse, equitable or inclusive when Haitian immigrant Hermann Colas, Jr. founded Colas Construction, Inc., in 1997.
“There were absolutely no sizable construction companies that had someone who looks like me in charge,” Colas recalled.
His first hire was daughter Aneshka Colas-Dickson, now vice president and chief financial officer. After working summers for her father, she had just graduated with a degree in accounting and was excited to join the family business.
“I always loved working around my father,” Aneshka Colas-Dickson said. “He involved us from a really young age. He planted little seeds without us knowing. So naturally, when he started Colas Construction, it was an easy fit for me to jump right in.”
In 25 years, Colas has grown from a self-funded startup of two into a large commercial general contractor with more than 100 employees. Colas does mostly sizable civic projects and is one of the largest family-owned Black construction companies, now under second-generation leadership of Colas’s three adult children.
“As we grow, we’re pushing the industry,” said President and CEO Andrew Colas. “We’re remapping what construction can and should be.”
It’s one of the reasons Colas Construction was chosen as winner for Business Renewal in Oregon State University’s Center for Family Enterprise’s 2023 Excellence in Family Business Awards.
“The result is that young men and women see themselves being part of this incredible industry,” Andrew Colas said. “That is what drives each one of us to come to work every day.”
Andrew Colas recalled how when he was growing up, he was aware of his father’s pride in his heritage.
“He never allowed the circumstances in society to limit the expectations that he had for me,” Andrew Colas said.
Being one of the largest Black-owned companies in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast carries responsibility.
“He picked one of the most ‘good old boy’ industries that exists and he decided, ‘I want this to be an industry everybody can be a part of: men, women, people of color,’” Andrew Colas said. “Our role and responsibility is to push our competitors to do more, to be better and to compete on the values we stand for.”
Through the Blueprint Foundation, which was co-founded by Vice President of Operations and Hermann’s nephew, Marc-Daniel Domond, the company provides an example for young people of color to explore possible careers in construction.
“We mentor black-identified youth,” said Domond. “Kids come to job sites, and we talk to them about how they can get into construction careers. When they can see their faces in the superintendents, project managers and safety directors, they realize that’s something they can do.”
Because his dad grew up in Haiti where working professionals and government officials, including the president, are Black, Hermann Colas didn’t see a limit to what he could achieve.
“It’s important for kids in Portland to see a Black-owned company achieve great things so they can believe it’s possible,” Domond said.
Hermann Colas recalled the impact that seeing the first Colas crane had on one of his six grandsons, who was seven, after visiting a construction site to check out the new equipment.
“He said, ‘Grandpa, this is the first crane with Colas Construction. But there will be a second crane, and a third crane and a fourth crane. Maybe there’ll be thousands of cranes with the Colas name,’” Hermann recalled.
Hermann Colas has since retired. Now one of his older grandsons is working for the company during the summer while he is in college, continuing the legacy, family story and values to a third generation.