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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.
Andy Givens, who owns Lamtech, Inc. in Florence, AL, loved to work with wood as an adolescent. High school shop classes at Wilson High (Lauderdale County) and Allen Thornton Vo-tech School in Killen only intensified his natural inclination. He appreciated working with wood - cutting it, shaping it, polishing it. He particularly enjoyed seeing how the final product of his woodworking would turn out.
Andy graduated from high school in 1985.
He started Lamtech - then named Fixture Perfect - in 1992, but it was only after a lot of research and counseling from the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the University of North Alabama (UNA) while he held various jobs. While he attended SBDC workshops, he heard something he has never forgotten: a local businessman got up; and told the audience that “…as long as you are happy, you are successful.” It has stuck in his mind to this day.
Later a SBDC counselor helped Andy prepare his business plan. That enabled him to find start-up financing by applying for loan. “I didn’t have the plan complete,” Andy said, “and I was awfully young.” The loan application failed. But with help from his father, he was able to get enough money to open his business. He started, as most businesses do, small. He worked at it part-time.
His first business location was his 700-square foot garage, in which he concentrated on re-laminating and refurbishing of store fixtures. He also built custom cabinets for residences and businesses. By 1996, Andy was in business full-time. Book-A-Million, the large regional book store chain, was his first major customer.
Andy helped Book-A-Million refurbish its fixtures so they could minimize buying new ones. He still serves them today. He continued to attend the SBDC workshops, learning what he could about marketing, business operations, and other helpful topics.
Lamtech now occupies 21,000 square feet in a new building on County Road 8 in Lauderdale County (built in 2003 out of proceeds from a $750,000 504 loan). Givens has overseen the business’ growth. His primary product (70 percent of his work) had been until recently cabinets for new coastal condominiums in Florida, where he helped construct four new condominiums, and in Alabama.
Since that business has dried up, he concentrates on building custom residential cabinets for local apartment complexes. He still does some cabinetry work for local schools and hospitals. His latest year’s annual revenues exceed $750,000.
Andy operates on a set of values that put the customer first. Beginning with courteous and prompt service, Lamtech strives daily to meet deadline commitments. Andy’s three employees – at one time he employed 14 - work hard to satisfy customers.
“I still enjoy the work. If I didn’t, I would do something else. But seeing what comes out of my labor and vision gives me the same satisfaction it did at school shop class years ago,” Givens said.
Andy is happy and successful. He appreciates the help he got from the SBDC and from SBA. Based on the repeat business from former clients and referrals to new prospects, they certainly meet that customer service test.