This Springfield man uses entrepreneurship, mentorship to change lives on city’s east side

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William Bishop IV, former Lanphier High School and Western Illinois University athlete, is the founder and CEO of Solid Ground Solutions Incorporated which provides project management and construction cleaning services where he creates job opportunities for people in the neighborhoods where he grew up. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

As a kid growing up on Springfield’s east side, William Bishop IV would go on bike rides with his friends. Together, they would often ride by Washington Park. When they reached Illini Country Club, Bishop — who is affectionately known as “Ham” — would tell his friends, one day he was going to make it inside that country club. 

As the owner of Solid Ground Solutions constriction company, last month Bishop, 32, was invited to a meeting at Illini Country Club. It was his first time inside and he took the opportunity to inquire about a membership.

However, Bishop’s vision for the future has always been bigger than himself. A year ago, his company — in partnership with O’Shea Builders — started a program that is changing lives for people in the community he grew up in. The Minority Workforce Network has already opened doors to the trades for 10 individuals who now have hands-on careers working in constriction, and make more money than they have in the past as part of local unions.

“I’m at the point now where my purpose in life is to help others get through the door,” Bishop said. “I got the door open for me. Now, I’ve got my foot on the door and I’m able to stand there with the door open, and I’m just trying to pull other people in.” 

Investing in a vision 

When Bishop left Springfield to attend college at Western Illinois University, he considered following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, William Bishop II, who served as a law enforcement officer in the United States military. So, when he called to tell his father he was going to study construction management, William Bishop III hung up the phone on his eldest child and namesake.

“He explained what construction management was to me, and he had a vision,” said William Bishop III, reflecting on a later conversation with his son. “That’s what impressed me, what he wanted to do with construction management. That taught me a lesson that your kids can’t live through your dreams. They’ve got to live their own dreams. After that, I never questioned him again when he made a decision.” 

Part of Bishop’s vision included getting people from his community jobs in the trades that would help them take care of their families.

After graduating from Western Illinois, he returned to Springfield and began an internship at Memorial Medical Center, which led to a job as construction project manager. While working for Memorial, Bishop earned his master’s in business administration with an emphasis in organizational development from Benedictine University. About a year after earning his graduate degree, in 2014, he started Solid Ground Solutions Inc.

His business — now with 18 employees — has made a name for itself within the local commercial construction demolition market. 

Even though the company generates enough revenue for Bishop to cover the mortgage on the four-bedroom home he lives in on the city’s west side, it started from humble beginnings. 

Related: Springfield’s longstanding equity gap has created ‘whole different world’ on the east side

"We started off just scrubbing floors and things like that at the hospital, stripping and waxing and floors,” said Bishop’s cousin, Darien Caldwell, who is the vice president of Solid Ground Solutions. “We went in blind. You would’ve thought we were two blindfolded babies trying to make it through this job and trying to do this.” 

As the pair started by cleaning homes that had been foreclosed on and doing post-construction cleanup, William Bishop III remembers watching his son move out of the nice apartment he lived in while working at Memorial and downsizing his vehicle. He returned to his grandmother’s house on the city’s east side in order to invest in the future he envisioned for himself, his company and the community surrounding him. 

“That’s when he made that transition of doing things the way he’s doing things now,” his father explained. “He just made up in his mind that he wasn’t going any other direction but the right direction.”

A lasting impact 

Before Caldwell, 34, became Bishop’s right-hand man at Solid Ground Solutions, he tried on multiple occasions to break into the trades. He took construction classes at Lincoln Land Community College, built a couple of houses on the north side of town with the Springfield Urban League and took part in another pre-apprenticeship program. After continuously filling out union applications and never receiving a callback, he gave up and started doing assembly-line work at Nudo Products

"I live probably a three-minute drive from Nudo Products and going to work there every day for five years straight, I would still be 10 minutes late sometimes,” Caldwell said. “I just hated waking up in the morning and going to work.

"Now, I’m up at 5 a.m. looking at the clock fixing breakfast. I can’t wait to get in there and get to work.” 

Spending a lot of his time doing demolition work, Caldwell enjoys that he is constantly on the move knocking things down and putting them back together. 

“To see the union movement in Springfield become more diverse and start to transform themselves to where we look like the city of Springfield and we represent all of the taxpayers of this community, in the long term, I think that’s paramount to our success,” said longtime Laborers Local 477 Business Manager Brad Schaive. “Solid Ground has been part and parcel to that success.” 

Ramehl Macon — one of the 10 men who took part in the first Minority Workforce Network class — is now part of the operating engineers union in Jacksonville.

Growing up with Bishop and playing travel basketball with him, Macon said at 18 years old he tried to get into the trades as an electrician. But, like Caldwell, he was never able to get a callback. 

During the Minority Workforce Network program, participants are introduced to people from different construction trade unions — everything from bricklayers to carpenters, to plumbers and roofers — throughout their 11 Wednesday night gatherings. 

“There have been a lot of programs that’s been around that say they will do things for you, and you’ll get through the programs, and nothing happens,” explained Macon, 33, who said he typically doubles and sometimes triples what he previously made working as a parking attendant for the city of Springfield. “But this is real. And it happens quick.” 

As an affiliate of Laborers Local 477, the wage package for each Solid Ground Solutions employee totals about $48 hourly, according to Schaive. 

More: Route History reopens with new outdoor exhibits displaying Springfield’s Black history

Eight more men are taking part in the Minority Workforce Network’s second program, which is set to conclude next month. 

“The trades have traditionally been my grandfather, my father, therefore, that’s what I do,” explained O’Shea Builders Vice President Tyler Cormeny, who along with Schaive, has been among those who have served as mentors for Bishop. “So, if you haven’t been in the trades, how do you get into the trades? 

“We’ve just cross-connected our networks. William has a network of people that are job ready. We have a network of union trades that are looking for workforce and looking for minorities. So, the concept is pretty simple.”

Learning from the past 

As Bishop focused on building his company, opportunities he did not capitalize on in high school and college served as a roadmap.

"I was caught up in a ton of distractions from my freshman year, all the way through the time I graduated college,” said Bishop, who explained that despite his lofty athletic goals he often prioritized time with friends over doing what he needed to reach those goals.

Attending Western Illinois on a partial football scholarship and walking on to the basketball team his freshman season, Bishop used what he learned along the way to help ensure his younger brother, Xavier Bishop, achieved all of his goals. 

“He maybe followed the wrong crowd for a little bit," said Xavier Bishop, 23, who is finishing his colligate basketball career at Montana State University and remains Lanphier High’s all-team leading scorer. "But I feel like he went through those ups and downs and bumped his head through life so he could show me right from wrong, where I didn’t have to go through those trials and tribulations.” 

As the assistant varsity boys basketball coach for Lanphier High now, Bishop continues to use what he has learned to help others.

"We grow up in a community where a lot of kids don’t have things,” said Lanphier High Varsity Boys Basketball Coach Blake Turner. “And a lot of kids, the first things that they see that are glamorous don’t come from a parent. It comes from someone in the neighborhood that may not be doing the right things.  

“A kid is going to take on whatever he’s around, for the most part.”  

Watch: 1908 Race Riot roundtable: A look at Springfield’s history with Black community leaders

Turner remembers Bishop’s first season coaching at the school where he finished his high school basketball career. At the time, he was the freshman coach. When Turner arrived to watch them play their first game, he discovered Bishop had purchased team shoes and new jerseys for his players.

“A lot of people will be successful, and they’ll run off in a corner by themselves and enjoy their success," Turner said. "He’s doing the total opposite. He’s gone right back to where he came from, to the same people that he grew up around — people that didn’t have the same opportunities that he had and said, ‘Hey, I got an opportunity for you to come and better yourself, if you really want to better yourself.’ If they look him in the eye and tell him that they want to better themselves, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been to college, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in trouble before. He wants to know if right now you want to make yourself better, and he’s providing those opportunities. 

“I can’t think of too many people in our community that’s doing that on the level he is." 

Building on the family name 

Earlier this month, signs for Bishop’s office on 11th Street went up. Last year, he purchased the entire east side strip mall.

On the signs, along with the company’s name, is the Solid Ground Solutions’ slogan: Believe. Strive. Achieve.

They are words that have served as a foundation for Bishop’s success. 

"Sixty percent of the people that I listen to or talk to about starting a company, I work diligently to talk them out of it because the construction industry can be very lucrative and it can also be a large gamble,” Schaive said. “It is a risky, risky industry with a lot of detractors. But it also, for someone who is driven, has a lot of opportunity for success.

“… I know Solid Ground is going to be around a long time. Companies like this, they don’t go away. They just grow.” 

After purchasing the strip mall, Bishop asked his father if he would make the short trip each morning from his east side home to open up. He also let him know that he was adding him to his payroll. 

"He’s the leader in our family,” said William Bishop III, 59, of the oldest of his four children. “I’m comfortable with that. We as old guys got to know when to sit back and let the young guys step up. 

“… It’s something when your kid creates a company and gives you a position. How can you argue with that?” 

More: Springfield poet Shatriya Smith builds on family legacy in working to educate and empower

In his role with the company, Bishop’s dad helps manage the properties within the strip mall, makes deliveries to job sites and assists with payroll. 

Even though he lives on Springfield’s west side now, as the father of two children under the age of 2, Bishop still goes on bike rides. Securing his one-year-old son, William Bishop V, to his bike, they will head over to the east side community where he grew up around the previous two generations of William Bishops. 

"My dad always said, ‘I gave you that name and don’t put a black mark on it. My dad gave it to me,’’” said William Bishop III, who along with his brother, was the first man in his family to graduate from college. “As a William, we just always grew up knowing that we tend to try to be better and try to set the standard in our family. Each generation has gotten better. 

“William’s taken it to a whole other level. That’s what I want. You want your kids to do better than you.” 

Contact Natalie Pierre at npierre@gannett.com or on Twitter @NataliePierre_

via The State Journal-Register

July 25, 2021 at 03:39PM

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