Minority-owned construction company passes $60 million, going for $100 million

 
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Published by Medill Reports

By Christina Maria Paschyn
March 1, 2007

After World War II a young man from Mississippi packed his suitcase dreaming of a better life in the North.  He moved to Gary hoping to land a job in a steel mill.  Instead he founded a multi-million dollar business.

Mamon Powers just couldn’t forget how much he loved building houses with his father back home.  So within days he quit his job at the mill to join a carpentry apprenticeship program.  There was just one problem: Powers was black.  And the carpentry union wouldn’t take him unless he could find an African-American contractor to hire him.

“That was one of the early issues my father faced,” said his son Mamon Powers, Jr.  “But he did find an African-American home-builder in Gary and got into the apprenticeship program.”

Powers, Sr. went on to establish in 1967 Powers & Sons Construction Inc., a commercial, industrial and institutional construction company that pulled in $60 million in sales this past year.  Past clients have included Wal-Mart Stores Inc., McDonald’s Corp. and Walgreen Co. But it’s not enough. The firm aims to reach $100 million in revenue within the next several years.

Michael Rozmus, director of construction at Walgreen, attests to Powers & Sons’ strong work ethic.  The construction company built several Walgreens drug stores for him in the Chicago area.

“For Walgreens, the quality of their work was good even though the schedule was comprehensive,” he said.  “I think they’re a good construction company; I would work with them some more if the opportunity presented itself.”

With offices in Gary, Indianapolis and Chicago, Powers employs about 90 people, 60 percent of whom are African-American.  Its field force includes laborers, cement finishers, carpenters, iron workers and operating engineers, allowing the company to perform its own excavation, concrete masonry and carpentry.

The firm has been hired for a number of high-profile building projects in the Indiana-Illinois area.  Powers, Jr.’s personal favorite is the Gary minor league baseball stadium, which was completed in 2002.

“It had an aggressive completion schedule and aggressive local hiring goals,” he said.  “And it carried a lot of significance because it was a catalyst for economic rejuvenation in downtown Gary.”

The company now is building a 180-unit housing development at 41st and State Street in Chicago, a project estimated at $38 million.

Powers & Sons earned its claim to fame back in 1991, when it was contracted to build a postal encoding facility in Gary.

“It wasn’t a very large project, maybe less than $3 million,” Powers Jr. said.  “But the schedule was impossible…They wanted it built in 90 days, but we built it in 85 days! We as a company learned a lot, and it gave us exposure because everybody said it was impossible.”

Indeed the firm has made quite a reputation for itself as a leader in minority-owned businesses.  It was recently recognized by Black Enterprise Magazine as one of the nation’s largest African-American businesses in the industrial services sector.

“Nobody in business looks at themselves as successful because they are constantly dealing with obstacles,” said Powers, Jr., who became president and CEO in 1987 at age 39.  “Each day is a little better and a little better and you keep working at it.  But then you kind of stop and realize that we started off with $300,000 worth of work and now we make $60 million.”

In 1997 Powers & Sons was honored nationally for its minority business development initiatives by the U.S. Small Business Administration; it received an award for its excellent participation in the SBA’s program for socially and economically disadvantaged companies.

Yet, despite all the success, Powers, Jr., says discrimination against this black-owned business persists.
“It’s not as flagrant and open as it was in the past,” he said. “But it’s there.  It’s just more subtle and not as overt,” citing a contract to build a convention center in Indianapolis that his company recently lost.  He claims his company was more experienced than the white-owned firm that got the contract.

“We had just built a convention center in Indianapolis which everybody was happy with, so we wanted to build the next one,” he said.

So it’s clear why Powers, Jr. joined the Alliance of Business Leaders & Entrepreneurs (ABLE), a non-profit organization that promotes African-American business leaders.

“Joining had significance for me as to establish a relationship with my peers and other African-American business leaders,” he said. “It was added inspiration there.”

Likewise, Powers, Jr. says his company strives to provide minorities with opportunities they would not find elsewhere.

“On construction projects you virtually never find a black superintendent,” he said.  “Yet we have half a dozen or more.  I know that the ones we have were not given the opportunity to work as a superintendent elsewhere.”

So what advice does Powers Jr. have for up-and-coming black business men and women?

“Never be dependent on a paycheck,” he said.  “Never depend on one source or customer for your business.  Never put yourself in position where a customer can bring financial ruin for your company if you’re not paid on time.”

INFO BOX:

Company:  Powers & Sons Construction Inc.

Business:  commercial, industrial and institutional construction

Location:  Gary, with offices in Indianapolis and Chicago

President and CEO:  Mamon Powers, Jr.

Founded: 1967

Revenue:  $60 million 2006

Employees:  90, 60 percent African American, including iron workers, operating engineers and cement finishers

Significant work: Gary minor league baseball stadium, completed 2002

Contact:  Marmon Powers, Jr., office 219 949 3100, cell 219 712 6735

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