Edson Hilaire is poised to make good money in the electric vehicle industry.
Hilaire, owner of EH Electric and HVAC based in Waltham, has nearly 20 years of experience as an electrician – installing lighting, generators and smoke detection systems, replacing wiring and upgrading electrical panels.
His skills are much needed considering the sale of new gas-powered vehicles will be banned in Massachusetts by 2035, paving the way for electric and hydrogen-powered cars to rule the road.
The timeline signals urgency. The state has about 13 years to build extensive electric vehicle infrastructure to support the law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law this year — vast networks of charging stations, suppliers, installers and maintenance providers.
“It’s like an evolution right now,” Hilaire said. “That’s it, it’s not a fad that will come and go. That’s what happened when gas came out and there weren’t many gas stations. Our country doesn’t have the infrastructure.”
It’s something the state is “far behind” on, said Nicole Obi, executive director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, or BECMA. But she thinks the backlog represents an opportunity, one that could leverage the expertise of black business owners like Hilaire to lend their talents to the electric vehicle industry — helping the state meet its carbon-neutral goals while also helping the state increase your livelihood.
There are big contracts to be won and dollars to be made. Under President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, Massachusetts is expected to receive nearly $64 million to expand its electric vehicle charging network.
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Black Economic Council of Massachusetts holds Kickstarter for electric vehicles
Obi’s organization is in the midst of an initiative to create a black-owned electric vehicle network that will engage business owners across the state in discussions about the potentially lucrative opportunity. The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts hosts “Kickstarter” events and hands out small grants of $5,000. He calls on electricians, property managers, equipment suppliers and anyone whose line of business may transition into the sale, installation and maintenance of electric vehicles and their chargers.
“With all this construction going on in Massachusetts, where do they buy their charging stations?” said Obi. “We want to preserve contracts that come from black-owned companies.”
In September, the Baker administration released $3.6 million in grants to support 25 organizations working to support minority and women-owned businesses in “climate-sensitive” sectors. BECMA received $50,000 to expand its electric vehicle Kickstarter program to territories outside of Boston.
BECMA has held two Kickstarter events to date, where key players have spoken about the opportunities and economics for owners, resellers, installers and maintenance providers in the electric vehicle industry.
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After the first event, “More than half of the attendees said the barriers to entry were lower than they thought and that they were interested in getting into that space,” Obi said. At September’s Mass Black Expo, the second Kickstarter saw a whole new cohort of business owners. They are planning another next year.
“Many of these business owners have located their businesses in black communities,” Obi said. “I’m very interested in making sure that black and brown communities aren’t left behind and that we don’t have these deserts, especially in (electric vehicles), because nobody is willing to build the infrastructure. “
Hilaire learned about electric vehicles during the continuing education required as part of his state electrician license. It was around 2014 and he got about one call a year to install a charging station or do an assessment.
Hilaire, a Haitian immigrant, wanted to expand his business but needed capital. He began working for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 to earn the extra money in addition to running his own company. The electric vehicle sector seemed to be exploding in the public eye, and it was getting more and more calls.
After learning about BECMA and attending a Kickstarter event, Hilaire said the experience changed the way he thinks about how his company could participate in the industry. So far he has only installed home chargers, but now he is interested in commercial ones as well.
“Opening doors,” Hilaire said of the Kickstarter. “It shed light on a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of. It has worked wonders for the company because they were able to give us a small grant to help us get some tools and equipment. We were able to hire another position. All of it helped.”
Recipients of BECMA’s Kickstarter grants will also have access to MassDevelopment for outside funding.
Hilaire sees the federal funds going into creating the infrastructure, and along with it the potential for black business owners like him to land contracts — like installing charging stations for a large residential or commercial park.
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According to national building regulations for electric vehicle charging stations, every new commercial building with more than 15 parking spaces must be prepared for charging stations at least one parking space.
“It’s up to the investors to get their hands on the business-as-usual guys and say, ‘You can’t do this project without a minority representative involved,'” Hilaire said. “We know what we can do. But it starts with the people who have the money, the investors and general contractors. I’ve been in rooms where people said, ‘We’ve been looking for minority entrepreneurs, but we can’t find any.’ That’s an insult. We’re out there.”
Capital, labor: barriers to entry into the electric vehicle industry
Like Hilaire, other BECMA Kickstarter participants have cited access to capital as the top barrier to entry into the EV space, as well as workforce constraints.
According to the US Chamber of Commerce, 76% of black entrepreneurs rely on personal and family savings for funding, and minority-owned businesses require significantly more seed capital from the owner’s pocket overall.
Hilaire emphasizes that if the state wants to reach net-zero by 2050, its legally binding emissions target, “it can’t just be those who have the money” doing the work and getting the benefits.
“If the state tries to be CO2-neutral, it will only work if everyone participates,” he said.