Commercial real estate, I learned recently, is one of the least diverse industry sectors in the American economy. But G. Lamont Blackstone, principal of G. L. Blackstone & Associates L.L.C. in Mount Vernon, New York, along with his team at Project REAP, is working hard to change the complexion of commercial real estate, a historically closed and insular sector.
Project REAP, or Real Estate Associate Program, is a leading, nationally recognized educational diversity initiative. It was started 20 years ago and now operates in nine cities across the country.
“It’s an education and networking initiative,” Blackstone, Project REAP’s board chairman, told me recently. “We connect our students with major companies—we act as a bridge.”
Commercial Real Estate
Blackstone told me that commercial real estate, although not front and center for most people, is “responsible for the built environment in which we live, work, shop, and stay in overnight.” All kinds of properties fall under that umbrella including the following:
- Multiple-family dwellings
- Office buildings
- Industrial properties, such as warehouses
- Retail real estate, such as shopping centers
Project REAP provides 10-week classes composed of 20 modules at an affordable price of $750. “All the classes are taught by seasoned professionals who are dealmakers themselves,” Blackstone says. Topics include financial and market analysis; shopping center investment, multifamily development; property and asset management, and more. There’s no age limit—mid-life career changers are welcome. The program is competitive and the class size target is 25–30.
“The program is multicultural but predominantly black,” Blackstone says, “followed by Hispanics, Asians, and a few South Asians.”
Students are working adults, not recent college grads. “We source and identify minority professionals who have a college degree and three to five years of work experience.” Those with experience in accounting and law seem to do especially well.
Over the 10 weeks students are introduced to commercial real estate fundamentals. “They get hired at entry level but grow and progress over time.”
‘Shattering Glass Ceilings’
Blackstone told me about an alum who is now in charge of all IKEA USA property; another is in the corporate real estate department at Nike; still another enjoys a senior position at Target.
“Our alums have shattered proverbial glass ceilings and risen to positions of lead decision making,” Blackstone says.
What about entrepreneurship?
Although Project REAP focuses on employment, Blackstone knows of alums who have gone on to launch their own businesses. One, a CPA by training, launched her own investment company to acquire apartment buildings in the Atlanta area.
The aim of diversifying commercial real estate grows more critical as the nation grows more diverse. Blackstone says that by the year 2030, 4.6 million new apartment units will be needed, according to the multifamily sector of the industry.
“Who will be developing those units, since many of them will probably be housing minority families, and who will benefit from their ownership?” he asks. “Will people of color be helping to develop those units beyond construction contracts and construction jobs created?”
For more information about Project REAP and to find out about its next class, visit its website.