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Engineer's Most Important Build: Her Own Business
“In 2005, I was working as a civilian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and spent six months on a construction project in Afghanistan. While I was over there, on my down time I would sit and think how I was going to start my own business,” recounted Mary Warren, a licensed professional engineer. “Starting a construction business is difficult especially if you don’t have any money, credit to rent equipment, references or bonding. All those things were piled up against me.”
The Long Island native had educational background in the industry, with a degree in mechanical engineering from the New York Institute of Technology. Warren spent four years serving in the U.S. Air Force as an environmental engineer at Mountain Home Air Force Base near Boise, Idaho. After her military service, Warren worked as a civil servant for the U.S. Army Public Works Engineering and Construction Division, OSHA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Warren returned home from Afghanistan and then visited the Watertown Small Business Development Center, funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, for free startup counseling sessions.
“They taught me the ABCs of starting a business, including business formation, how to write a business plan and different tax structures. They also gave me important contacts such as the regional PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center). I found the PTAC was the best place for subcontracting opportunities and for networking with other companies,” said Warren.
With a solid business plan, Warren found crucial support to launch her business from the Department of Defense’s Mentor-Protégé Program (MPP). After many attempts, Warren successfully pitched her startup to an existing construction company that participated in the MPP. As the mentor, Structural Associates helped Ms. Warren with obtaining a line of credit, help establish bonding, provided non-competitive subcontract awards, and provided rented space in its Watertown office. Warren’s time as a protégé allowed her startup company, Black Horse Group, to grow quickly from its sole-proprietor status to employ 35 people in just 18 months.
Today Ms. Warren employs eight managers and 30 to 50 field employees depending on the project. Black Horse Group has become a full-service design-build general contracting firm that excels at federal and state construction projects, successfully completing project worth over $4 million as a subcontractor and $24 million as a prime contractor. Projects range from $400,000 building maintenance contracts for corporate clients to larger projects such as an $11.8 million infrastructure upgrade contract, a $6.5 million contract to build a 25,000-square-foot fire station, and a $6.3 million contract for a 15,000-square-foot Child Development Center. Black Horse Group was also a joint-venture partner to build a 25,000-square-foot Child Development Center on Fort Drum.
Black Horse Group is currently working on the $397,000 historical renovation of the Rock Island lighthouse in the St. Lawrence Seaway for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. As part of a five year Multiple Task Order Award Contract (MATOC) for the Northeast region through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Black Horse Group is currently building a 75,000-square-foot Training Support Center and a 4,000-square-foot storage building at Fort Drum. The design includes adding a ground source heat pump geothermal system and upon completion, both buildings will earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED silver rating.
“My military experience really taught me how to manage resources, assets and people. I wanted to start my own company because I liked to build teams and I liked to build things. To anyone considering starting a business, I would say if you have the passion for something, go for it,” said Ms. Warren.