Local American Indian Businesswoman Partners with Western Pa. Small Business Administration to Secure Contracts, Jobs
Local American Indian businesswoman partners with Western Pa. Small Business Administration to secure contracts, jobs
SHELOCTA, PA – Early in her construction career, Darcia North Wind found herself tied off on a bridge, jackhammer in hand, she confessed to being envious of the project manager. Fast-forward two decades, and North Wind now not only hires project managers, but owns her own contracting firm.
Yet the 54-year-old president and owner of Northwind Engineering, LLC., still can be found, shovel in hand, working side-by-side with the construction crew she now employs.
She founded Northwind Engineering, LLC., in 2001, combining years of field experience as a firefighter and traffic control supervisor with corporate familiarity honing her skills at four large businesses. “Firefighting and laboring was hard,” she explained. Perhaps even harder was for North Wind to break the glass ceiling as both a female business owner and Native American. North Wind is an Enrolled Tribal Member of the Chippewa Cree Indian Tribe with roots in Montana.
“Growing up as an American Indian presented its disadvantages,” she maintained. “Early in my career, I worked out of the union hall as a laborer. Sometimes I was the only woman on the crew, which at times, was not always with a welcome reception.” Yet, her experience coupled with help from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) enabled North Wind to grow her company from a two-person startup to a firm that employs 52 persons with satellite offices in Missouri and Wyoming.
“When I started my company, I didn’t have a whole lot of resources,” she explained. “I was able to get financing because the SBA underwrote my loan to purchase equipment for our livelihood. North Wind also utilized the SBA’s Surety Bond Guarantee program to provide her with the bonding necessary to compete for jobs. A few years later, North Wind again turned to the SBA – this time for their federal contracting programs.
“My father held many plaques from the SBA’s SCORE (America’s Counselors to Small Business) program in Montana where he served as a volunteer mentor who helped other small businesses,” North Wind stated. “I went to the SBA website to try to better my company.” It was on the website that North Wind said she learned about the SBA’s 8 (a) program. The purpose of the program is to promote equal access for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals to participate in the business sector of the nation’s economy. Individuals must make a nine-year commitment, during which time they receive business development assistance, access to government opportunities and technical support.
North Wind turned to the Western Penna. (Pittsburgh) District office for assistance. She attended their 8(a) information sessions and began the paperwork process with assistance from Barbara Fisher, deputy district director. In 2006, North Wind formally entered the SBA’s 8(a) program.
“When a business enters our 8(a) program we teach them marketing techniques, because they are the best salesperson for their company,” said Fisher. “We can’t guarantee government work, but, instead we show them how to enter the government market – it’s then up to them to market their product or service.”
Fisher said she and Business Development Specialist Marisa Fentzel became liaisons between North Wind and the federal agencies, whose contracts she was pursuing, to explain the purpose of the 8(a) program and its value and benefits. The SBA partnership paid off. To date, Northwind LLC., has secured 25 prime contracts including a new four-year project to remodel the Bradford Ranger Station and reconstruct the forest road at Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir.
November is Native American Heritage Month with Nov. 27 designated as Native American Heritage Day. For more information on Darcia North Wind or the SBA’s many programs, please contact the SBA Western Pennsylvania District Office at 412-395-6560.
The U.S. Small Business Administration – helping small businesses start, grow and succeed.
Before the doctors, nurses and patients arrive at the new Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville, Mary Coffey makes sure the hospital is ready to open its doors. Coffey isn’t a local building inspector, she is president of All-Purpose Cleaning Services, Inc., an industrial cleaning corporation which was awarded the final construction cleanup contract for the hospital. “I clean everything up before they (the tenants) move in,” the Crafton resident said.
While cleaning up might not be considered glamorous, Coffey literally has been cleaning up Pittsburgh for the past 30 years and parlayed a job as a nanny into a million-dollar business. Not bad for a woman who dropped out of Langley High School at 17. “I got pregnant and couldn’t finish school with my classmates,” she stated. “A year later, I was married and two years later I had baby number two.”
In 1978 Mary and her twin sister Martha opened the Mary and Martha Cleaning Service. They did it with $35, a sweeper and a few cleaning supplies. Two years later, she formed her own company – All-Purpose Cleaning Services, Inc. “I was always interested in business, as a child I sold candy apples,” she explained. “I wanted bigger and better things for myself and the excitement of owning a big business.”
Along the way, Mary had some assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Pittsburgh District Office. She entered the Agency’s 8(a) program in 1985.The purpose of the 8(a) program is to promote equal access for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals to participate in the business sector of the nation’s economy. Individuals must make a nine-year commitment, during which time they receive business development assistance, access to government opportunities and technical support.
Coffey said the SBA helped her to better market her company. She began attending seminars and networking at marketing events. “When a business enters our 8(a) program we teach them marketing techniques, because they are the best salesperson for their company,” said Barbara Fisher, deputy district director of the Pittsburgh District SBA.. “We can’t guarantee government work, but, instead we show them how to enter the government market – it’s then up to them to market their product or service.”
“For the first four years, I really didn’t go out and sell myself,” Coffey explained. “Finally, I got my first big contract cleaning the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh.” Other contracts soon followed, including the Pittsburgh International Airport and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Today, Coffey serves as president and estimator of All-Purpose Cleaning Services, Inc., and Multi-Purpose Cleaning and oversees a staff of more than 80 people.
Donning a suit, hardhat and boots, Coffey goes on site visits to bid on contracts. “I’m always the only woman there,” she said laughing. “In fact, I once took an excavating class and the men were saying ‘why is she here, she’s a cleaning lady’…But, of all of those men there, I’m the only one still in business.”
Note: For more information on the SBA’s programs, please contact the SBA Western Pennsylvania District Office at 412-395-6560.
The U.S. Small Business Administration – helping small businesses start, grow and succeed.
For Kevin Stecko, a geo-environmental engineering graduate from the Pennsylvania State University, the success to creating a niche business was easy - he just needed to go "Back to the Future."
In the popular '80s movie, a high-school student is transported back in time to find and reunite his parents. Stecko didn't need a fancy time machine; he merely donned a retro "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" T-shirt while visiting a Pittsburgh amusement park.
The compliments he received sent Stecko travelling back to the Penn State store where he had purchased the original retro shirt. This time, though, he bought a bulk order hoping to earn a few extra dollars selling the retro-wear on eBay, the popular online auction site.
This May, Stecko, 33, traveled to Washington, DC -- not to purchase shirts, but to compete for the U.S. Small Business Adminstration's (SBA) title of Small Business Person of the Year.
Stecko began his quest at the local level, when he was chosen as the Western Pennsylvania District Office Small Business Person of the Year. The nomination package was then forwarded to the regional office in Philadelphia to compete with their local winner.
Stecko, president of 80sTees.com, Inc., was chosen as the state winner, and vied for the national title. That honor was announced in Washington, D.C. during the 47th annual celebration of National Small Business Week.
Stecko admits he has come a long way from his company's humble beginnings in the family home. "I had a link on my eBay shirts that sent you to my web page to order additional shirts. We had T-shirts in every room in the house except the kitchen and bathroom," he added. "We would put purchased shirts in an envelope, shove the envelopes in a big bag and take it to the post office and wait in line and annoy the people behind us."
Because he was selling shirts with graphics from 1980s cartoons, Stecko selected the moniker 80sTees.com. However, he credits his mother with expanding his inventory.
"She went on the Internet and found one of the biggest shirt suppliers, so she was my very first hire," he stated. "That vendor's invoice mentioned an upcoming trade show, so I started goin to trade shows and met the vendors. They ship us the shirts - which are individually inspected for quality."
Stecko soon moved from the family house to a complex in North Huntingdon. But, with sales Soaring from $6.9 million to $10.5 million annually, he quickly outgrew that facility. In 2008, using an SBA Loan, he purchased a 45,000 square foot facility which houses more than 150,000 T-Shirts. He has a roster of 14 full-time associates and 13 part-time employees. And as much as he loves the '80s, Stecko decided to use Millennium technology to update his website by offering gift certificates, a site blog and suggestion center.
Nestled among the hundreds of shelves in this cartoon and movie T-shirt emporium are Elmo and Rocky shirts, as well as a heat transfer machine that allows Stecko to print the licenses that he does own from the movies "Dirty Dancing, " "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and "Top Gun," and cartoons "The Transformers," "GI Joe," and "My Little Pony."
"Most of our shirts are purchased through vendors, but we do have licenses for a number of properties," he explained. "Although it's a nice exclusive, with licensing you have to have a graphic artist do the work and send it to the (movie) company for approval."
Stecko soon noticed that many of his retro-shirts were being used during Halloween as costumes. In 2005 he decided to expand adding costumes. The virtual store also has sold accessories - such as Yoda slippers and board games for a number of years.
Carl Knoblock, Western Pennsylvania SBA district director, stated that Stecko has a good understanding of his market. "He knows what sells is expanding and has even started exporting shirts to English-speaking countries around the world," he said. "He's tapped into the nostalgia market that keeps people coming back for their favorite icons from generations ago."
Stecko and eight ohter local small business owners and advocates were lauded at the Wester Pennsylvania SBA May 28th Awards Luncheon which were held at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel Pittsburgh. The luncheon is held in conjuction iwth the 47th annual celebration of Nation Small Business Week.
"Our team here at 80sTees.com works hard every day to provide outstanding customer service and great products," he said. "It feels extremely gratifying to be recognized by the SBA fo our efforts and success as a Pennslyvania-based company."