The 10th annual Inner City 100, a national competition that seeks to find and rank fast-growing companies in the nation's inner cities, has recognized One Stop Environmental LLC of Birmingham among its selections for 2008.
President & CEO Shannon Riley never suspected she would wound up with such recognition. “It is an honor and really thrilling for our Company,” she said. To qualify for the award, companies are required to have at least 51 percent of their operations in an economically distressed urban area, have a five-year sales history, and fifth year sales of at least $1 million.
She will fly to Boston soon to find out where her company ranked nationally.
The competition is sponsored by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a Boston-based nonprofit focused on fostering healthy urban economies, and Inc., a magazine that reports on growing companies and entrepreneurs.
This award has come on top of another from INC Magazine itself: A recent recognition of Riley’s firm as one of the 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America. Riley said it is awards like these that give her instant national credibility and exposure with customers.
Shannon, a Furman University chemistry grad with a Masters degree in chemistry from the University of Alabama, wanted to be a soccer Mom – but a good one. Her four kids remain a high priority. “I never visualized running a company,” Riley said.
Running a company she does. With 35 employees, and over a 182 percent increase in revenues in 2006 over 2005, Riley has become not just a dedicated Mom, but also an award-winning Chief Executive. Her firm specializes in industrial services, waste disposal, remediation, chemical identification, emergency responses, and site assessments among other services.
One Stop Environmental has grown significantly since it gained 8(a) and HUBZone certifications from the SBA several years ago. She credits the UAB Small Business Development Center (SBDC) with lots of help. Beginning in 2001, Brenda Cox, a SBDC counselor, helped Shannon prepare for certification. Shannon also used the matchmaking events sponsored by the SBDC to link up with possible customers.
In addition to a growing list of customers in Alabama, her firm has now done work in Louisiana helping in Katrina recovery.
Shannon actually began work life in New Mexico at Los Alamos National Labs following the advice of an early academic mentor. After she got to Birmingham, her first local employer closed its door. Riley realized she could not only earn more than the $10 per hour she was earning working for as a consultant by starting her own business. Starting her own business would also give her more freedom to handle her primary responsibilities as a Mother of four children. “I always had as a high priority being the best Mother I could be,” Riley explained. That hasn’t changed. It hasn’t hurt her business life either.
Riley impressed many customers early-on with her “nurturing” skills (her words). For example, in the early days, after starting her company, she worked without a contract for over a year with a federal agency to position herself. “I literally held their hands,” Riley emphasized. “And I eventually won the contract when they finally opened it.” Nurturing helps.
In a male-dominated market, Shannon has used her nurturing skills to position her Company as a “holding hands” company. “In many ways, nurturing clients is like rearing children – it’s a holding hands endeavor. That generates confidence in my Company as it does with my children,” Riley said.
Her clients appreciate that. With revenues now over $5 million, Riley now has the tough task balancing her Company’s growth with available cash. “Cash flow is a now constant problem,” she emphasized. It is a problem, however, she manages with the same hands-on approach she has used with customers. She is not afraid to stick her hands into dirty problems. Riley confidently says she is a “driven person.” It shows.
An important step in learning new techniques in management money and employees will be the SBA Mentoring program she has just started. “I am teamed up with a wonderful business owner (also a woman, Sylvia Medina) from Twin Falls, Idaho. She owns North Wind, Inc., a much larger company but in the same environmental clean-up line-of-work. She has really been great,” Riley emphasized.
Riley’s job as head of One Stop Environmental has been so successful she has been recognized by the Birmingham Business Journal as one of the City’s Top 10 Business Women for 2007. And the Birmingham Chamber just announced Riley as its 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year.
Add that local recognition to the others from national publications – an impressive array. SBA salutes Shannon Riley and One Stop Environmental. Her Company thrives because it reflects her values. They are truly a success story.
A local firm specializing in custom wrought iron doors will soon open its doors in Jefferson County, Alabama. The new facility will create 30 new manufacturing jobs that were previously part of Mexican plant who custom manufactured the doors on a outsource basis.
“I agree it is a little strange in this day and age to return manufacturing from a lower wage foreign location back to the USA,” Eduardo Cuneo, the owner and local entrepreneuer of Old Iron Doors, LLC. “But the fact is for the custom work we do, Old Iron Doors wanted complete quality control on site here.”
“In this way, Cueno went on, “We could avoid having to re-work costly mistakes or simple changes from the foreign plant, not to mention eliminating the high transport costs for moving the semi-finished product from Mexico to Birmingham.”
Old Iron Doors is a custom design and manufacturing enterprise and one of two businesses owned by Cueno, who is originally from Lima, Peru. He moved to Alabama after marrying an Alabama girl. His other firm, which specializes in industrial and commercial security operations, actually owns the site for the new plant and the 504 SBA loan for its building. Old Iron Doors now employs 20 local workers.
Our new building houses a state-of-the-art machine that mechanizes the entire custom door manufacturing,” Cueno emphasized. “The new machine actually eliminates the need for welding in the manufacturing process, and thereby increases quality.”
In Cureno’s view, another important aspect to returning his product manufacturing to the USA was to improve the quality of life for his employees. “Many of my employees and I had to spend so much time on the road to produce our final product: this change now allows us to work from home – Alabama,” he said.
Old Iron Doors now can claim to produce a 100% American-made product. “We hope to move to making windows to complement our custom doors,” Eduardo said. The company uses a network of 14 distributors around the country. It has offices and showrooms in Atlanta, Birmingham, Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas.
The Alabama International Trade Center at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, assisted us greatly. Its counseling and packaging enabled us to make this change rapidly, and those move to a better quality product for our customers,” he added. Carol DeCastra at the AITC worked up a financial plan that eventually attracted a bank willing to work with AITC and Old Iron Doors to do the $770,000 loan.
Capital for new business investment. Higher quality products. And new jobs for Alabama – a great combination. Congratulations, Old Iron Doors. We salute you.
After struggling since 1996, Barbara and Kevin, the owners of McClain Construction in Andalusia, AL were tired. They had had what could only be termed limited success.
McClain Construction Company had been born out of the ashes of a previous business venture selling ATVs and watercraft. But it had struggled. To be sure, McClain Construction, an ALDOT-licensed construction company, had achieved some success. They had worked hard to improve their work, and they had won some contracts on bridge work components in AL. But it had been tough to find regular projects.
Barbara McClain: “Sometimes, the only recourse to laying off their work force was to go to the bank and borrow money to make the payroll so those valuable employees could take their wages home to meet their bills. We did that without hesitation because we have always tried to treat our employees like family. We had to do what was fair for them.”
The Company’s financial fate was about to change dramatically. After months of negotiating the complex application process for SBA 8(a) and HUBZone certification even as they struggled to line up projects with the State of Alabama, the McClains received their official letter with their hard-won federal designation in September 2005. Things haven’t been the same since.
“It wasn’t like the federal government suddenly started handing over work, far from it. But our certification was the best thing that ever happened to our family (and our employees’ families),” said Barbara. “It gave us the chance to prove our worth to a whole new client base, even outside the state.” And McClain Construction was not about to miss the opportunity to prove its mettle.
Barbara and Kevin worked like crazy during the fall and winter 2005 and 2006 to put their companies’ certification, capabilities, and values in front of federal contract officers. Eventually, a somewhat skeptical contract officer at Keesler AFB in Biloxi gave them a chance. He awarded them a $3,000,000 contract for “on-call” services at the Air Force base. The official name is SABRE work, and it includes odd-job things like fixing and replacing air conditioners, minor plumbing work, and building remodeling. They excelled. The somewhat skeptical federal officer in Biloxi became a strong supporter of McClain’s honesty, ability to meet commitments, and quality of work.
Then, this same contracting officer gave them a second contract for $3 million four weeks later –again, at Keesler AFB. And because McClain’s work was so good, he gave them another $3.5 million contract. Now, altogether, Keesler has awarded over $13 million in contracts to the McClains.
And that wasn’t all. Their reputation spreading, other nearby federal installations like the Navy Seebee Base in Gulfport and the VA Hospital in Biloxi awarded McClain more work. Soon, they had over $6 million in awarded or in process work from other installations.
McClain has now seeking to expand beyond its successful Mississippi experience. It has entered bidding for contracts at Fort Rucker, AL and at nearby Hurlburt Field, Tyndall AFB, and Eglin AFB in the Florida Panhandle. Hurlburt’s $2 million contract has entered the final negotiation phase, but the total work for all these federal facilities in Florida will exceed $20 million. Barbara is so grateful for this recent success as an 8(a) program participant.
“Our strength lies with our personnel,” Barbara is quick to acknowledge. Each of them is an expert in his or her field, and we appreciate them all.” Barbara also added that key staff at the SBA office in Birmingham has helped immensely. “Susan Baxter, Elaine Dunlap, and William Howell have been wonderful,” McClain said.
The McClains (Barbara is over 60 years of age) are not about to retire. Instead, they are working harder than ever – now that their quality workmanship precedes them – to expand their work for these military bases. There is every reason to assume they will be successful.
Quite a story for a once-struggling construction company from small-town Andalusia, Alabama. Congratulations, McClain Construction Company. You are a real credit to your profession, to your community, and to SBA.