The Atlanta Black Chambers’ Real Estate and Professional Services committee hosted dual panel discussions at Pittsburgh Yards on Thursday afternoon, where regional entrepreneurs gave a crash course on the basics of construction and property development.

The group of contractors, project managers and other business professionals shared advice and words of encouragement to an overflowing crowd of attendees interested in pursuing careers in commercial real estate. 

Managing partner at SkyRise Property Group and introductory speaker, Njeri Warfield, spoke on the importance of diversifying spaces in commercial real estate and said she uses her voice and platform to uplift aspiring entrepreneurs of color looking to enter the industry. She also advised that careers in construction require lofty ambitions and hard work from those involved.

“My key takeaway is [to] think collaboratively [and] work passionately,” Warfield said. “Surround yourself and be your next level. Think bigger; if it doesn’t have enough zeroes in it, aim higher.”

The first panel of the afternoon, entitled “The FUNdamentals of Construction,” walked listeners through the basics of working in the field, explaining the expectations one should expect from a legal contract, how to approach a bank for a loan, as well as how to collaborate with other parties in your construction network.

“Don’t be the smartest person in the room,” project manager at Young Star Properties Monique Williams said during the first panel. “But [also], don’t be the dumbest person in the room.”

Angie Walton, attorney and principal at Atlanta-based Walton Law Firm, said lawyers in Georgia usually aren’t able to assist contractor clients lacking physical documentation related to their construction projects. She also said enlisting the help of an attorney early on in the development process could save contractors money, as opposed to waiting until problems arise after construction begins.

“In Georgia law, when you’re dealing with real estate, you need to have something in writing,” Walton said. “A court’s not going to entertain, to an extent, ‘he said, she said’ for obvious reasons.” 

The event’s moderator, Amber Lawson, principal at Aspire Construction & Design, also chimed in with educational insight throughout the session, encouraging attendees to always have backup plans when managing a construction project. Lawson also said new contractors should begin their first project by setting aside an ample amount of money for contingency costs, in order to make up for uncontrollable setbacks in the construction process.

“It’s very important to have that line item in your budget,” Lawson said. “Because if you do not, that could sink your whole project.”

The next panel was a question-and-answer session featuring three contractors with more than 50 years of combined experience in the industry.

Thomas Billups, CEO of Billups Homes, said during the panel that working in corporate settings in the past gave him the insight he needed to start his own construction company in 2021.

“What [previous bosses] didn’t pay me in money, they paid me in knowledge,” Billups said.

The Atlanta Black Chambers regularly holds networking mixers and socials similar to Thursday’s series of panels. Check out the organization’s website for a full calendar of upcoming events.