Sherwin-Williams rebuked for dearth of diversity in $600M Cleveland construction projects

A Limited Palette

Sherwin-Williams rebuked for dearth of diversity in $600M Cleveland construction projects

A view of downtown Cleveland. (Tim Evanson/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Last week, global paint and coatings behemoth Sherwin-Williams announced the key partners secured for the building and design of two major projects for the Cleveland-based Fortune 500 company: A new corporate headquarters in the heart of downtown Cleveland at Public Square and a half-million-square-foot research and development facility in the southern suburb of Brecksville to serve as the anchor of a 119-acre mixed-use development. The news, initially announced in February, marks a major investment for Sherwin-Williams in its hometown of Cleveland, where it was founded in 1866. Over the decades, the company and has maintained a strong cultural and economic presence in the greater Cleveland metro area.

Among the firms listed in last week’s announcement: New Haven, Connecticut-based Pickard Chilton Architects; Minnesota-headquartered HGA Architects and Engineers; architecture and interior design firm Vocon Partners; and Welty Building Company along with Gilbane Building Company, two major construction firms taking on the role of construction manager as a joint venture.

In the same press release naming these firms and others, Sherwin-Williams also noted its commitment to “fostering a culture of inclusion and diversity in the workforce.”

Forbes recently named the Company among America’s Best Employers for Diversity, for New Graduates and for Women. The Company is extending this commitment to the construction of these facilities,” reads the statement, which was also shared by ConstructionDive. “Sherwin-Williams will work proactively with the cities, community leaders and trade partners to positively impact the local economy by providing workforce opportunities for the community, including awarding contracts to minority-owned and female-owned businesses, as well as small businesses.”

However, the announcement of the core project partners—ten in total—selected for its headquarters and R&D facility directly counters the company’s own stated commitment to diversity as none of the firms are minority-owned.

On the same day that Sherwin­-Williams announced its project partners for the $600 million-minimum projects, three Black leaders in Cleveland’s construction and clerical communities published an open letter taking note of the discrepancy. As reported by, the three co-signers were Norm Edwards, president of the Black Contractors Association, along with Rev. E. Theophilus Caviness and Pastor Aaron Phillips, both of the Cleveland Clergy Coalition.

“If black and minority architects, engineers, attorneys, owner’s representatives, construction managers, project managers, consultants, economic development advisors, contractors, and construction workers are going to be excluded from the Sherwin-Williams project then don’t build it here” read the letter.

The letter also called on city, state, and county leaders, including Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, to refrain from providing grants and tax incentives to construction projects that lack diversity and inclusion “from the very start.” Cleveland alone has committed to a $100 million tax break for Sherwin-Williams as part of a generous development incentive package.

“It was an insult for Sherwin-Williams to come out and have ten partners with no diversity and inclusion,” Edwards told local CBS affiliate WOIO. “How do we tell black contractors and black construction workers that they have hope when we’re left out right at the beginning.”

In addition to creating a large number of local jobs in the construction phases, the two new Sherman-Williams facilities, which will accommodate more than 3,500 existing employees, will add a minimum of 400 new jobs—including chemists, engineers, and professional staff—overtime, which is an 11 percent increase to its current local workforce according to the company.