Wall Street Journal
By Dan Frosch and Andrew Tangel
March 29, 2017
More than 200 companies have expressed interest in submitting plans to help design and build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, as the Trump administration seeks to fulfill a key campaign promise despite significant obstacles.
The companies, whose names were published on a federal contracting website, vary widely in size and capability—from construction giants like Kiewit Corp. to smaller, family-owned businesses.
Among those interested at this early stage are more than three dozen businesses owned by minorities, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows. Roughly 13% of the companies expected to submit proposals for the wall, for example, are owned by Hispanics.
This week, the federal government extended a Wednesday deadline to submit preliminary pitches for the wall until April 4 because many companies had questions about the project, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency overseeing the bidding.
While some businesses were scrambling to finish their proposals, others that indicated interest are simply tracking the project and may not follow through. Still other companies are subcontractors who listed themselves because they want to be hired by a winning bidder.
Close to half of the potential bidders are located in border states, including nearly 50 in California, whose political leaders are fighting the wall. One bidder auspiciously bears the name of Roman emperor and famous wall-builder Hadrian.
Among the businesses signaling interest are also several major construction companies with past ties to President Donald Trump, who spent decades working with the construction industry as a real-estate developer.
The hustle to submit applications came in response to requests for proposals posted online by U.S. Customs Border and Protection on March 17. The agency called for two designs for a wall “physically imposing in height”—one made of concrete and one of alternative material—to be built across the nearly 2,000-mile border.
Despite substantial legal and logistical hurdles, and the risks of taking on a politically divisive project, the wall has drawn at least preliminary consideration from all corners of the building industry—even unexpected ones.
Mario Burgos, the son of an immigrant, owns an Albuquerque, N.M., construction logistics company and plans to submit a proposal. He said he viewed the project as more geared toward border security than immigration, and a surefire way to boost employment in job-strapped New Mexico.
“I am not against immigrants by any stretch of the imagination,” said Mr. Burgos, whose father came to the U.S. from Ecuador. “There isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have borders and doesn’t want to enforce them.”
Mr. Burgos noted that his company, Burgos Group LLC, which holds various defense contracts with federal agencies, has handled projects in southern New Mexico near the border and was familiar with operating in remote, rugged locations.
Many interested companies on the list of possible bidders didn’t return requests for comment.
Several companies expected to submit proposals, such as Kiewit, helped erect some of the roughly 650 miles of fencing that already snakes across the border. A Kiewit spokesman said the company doesn’t publicly discuss plans to pursue or forgo such projects.
Other interested businesses have niche specialties, like Leesburg,Va.-based Helix Steel. Chief Executive Chris Doran said Helix’s products, which make concrete more resistant to blasts and other stresses, would suit what he called a “massive opportunity.”
Mr. Doran, whose company has about 50 employees, said he wasn’t concerned with fallout from participating in the project. “All I can say is I’m fighting for American jobs, and if fighting for American jobs is wrong, I’ll take that risk,” he said.
Construction giant Tutor Perini Corp., a Sylmar, Calif.-based company whose projects include building a Long Island Rail Road station under Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, has indicated its interest in a potential bid.
The company was also the general contractor on Mr. Trump’s hotel and condominium tower in Las Vegas, which opened in 2008, and has constructed other major projects in Las Vegas.
Representatives of Tutor Perini didn’t respond to requests for comment.
This stage of the government contracting process requires companies to submit their qualifications and concepts for the wall, but not detailed renderings.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said companies must design a wall that is at least 18 feet high and fashioned with anticlimbing devices. According to agency documents, submissions will be winnowed down to as many as 20 finalists, which will be asked to provide more extensive plans. Some will eventually be selected to assemble prototypes in San Diego for review.
A spokesman for the agency said it would review the proposals and release more information on the bidding process as it continues.
The project’s prospects are uncertain, however. In budget requests to Congress this month, Mr. Trump asked for $4 billion to begin planning and building the wall, a fraction of the $21 billion that one internal Department of Homeland Security report estimated would be needed.
However, senior Republicans suggested Tuesday that they may pass a spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown at the end of April without funding for the wall.
Some major companies opted to skip the bidding process altogether. Executives cited the public outcry surrounding the wall, or said the project didn’t fit their expertise.
An executive at a major American construction company that didn’t want to be named said the company wouldn’t bid on the wall because it feared involvement could hurt its significant international business, especially in Mexico.
Even considering the project caused internal unrest, this executive said. Employees opposed to the company’s participation began circulating an internal petition, followed by another by a smaller group of employees in favor of bidding. “It was too explosive for us,” the executive said.
The administration’s push to build the barrier has spurred recent efforts by some local Democratic lawmakers to penalize companies who participate in the project. Those efforts have been focused in California, which, along with Texas, has by far the most companies that want to help build the wall.
A bill introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara would prevent California from contracting with companies that work on the wall in that state. Another measure sponsored by Democratic legislators would require California’s public employee retirement system and its teachers’ retirement system, the nation’s two largest pension funds, to liquidate any investments in companies working on the wall.
Last week, three San Francisco supervisors introduced legislation barring the city from contracting with companies that bid to work on the wall.
One Carlsbad, Calif., company said its intention to submit a plan for the wall had nothing to do with ill will toward immigrants. Hadrian Construction Co. owner Rod Hadrian said he employs Mexican immigrants and his main goal was to promote a prefabricated product he believes will create a wall that is cheaper and easier to install in remote border areas.
“I’m not trying to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out of here,” Mr. Hadrian said.
For Patrick Balcazar, a veteran and former Army Corps of Engineers officer who owns San Diego Project Management PSC in Puerto Rico, the notion of a wall between countries isn’t something he agrees with. But Mr. Balcazar, who has roots in Mexico and Ecuador, where he says his German Jewish family fled just before World War II, said the project could be a much needed boon for the economically depressed island.
“For us, it’s work. We’re in a recession in Puerto Rico,” said Mr. Balcazar, whose company holds various federal contracts.
Mr. Balcazar has been working late nights, summoning his experience with battlefield operations to craft a design he plans to submit.
“If we have to build this thing, let’s build it right. Let’s stop the bad guys and take care of the poor people who are caught in this mess,” he said. “And then, let’s tear it down.”
—Alexandra Berzon, Taylor Umlauf and Shane Shifflett contributed to this article.
Write to Dan Frosch at firstname.lastname@example.org and Andrew Tangel at Andrew.Tangel@wsj.com
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