Journey Steel Trailblazer Helps Others Succeed with Workforce Training Program

Journey Steel workers in factory

Barbara Smith, owner of Cincinnati-based steel fabrication and erection company, Journey Steel, has never been afraid to make her own path to success. With more than 29 years of experience in the construction industry, working with Fortune 500 companies and preparing multi-million dollar budgets, Smith saw an opportunity to stand out as a small business owner.

"There are not a lot of black women in construction," Smith said. "I've always had a drive to succeed and, by becoming a small business owner, I saw my chance to create a niche business and stand out against my competitors."

Smith partnered with Tom Garten, who also had a strong background in construction and project management, to launch Journey Steel in 2009.

Smith has used SBA resources every step of the way in her business growth. To help prepare for government contracting, she tapped an SBA-powered Procurement Technical Assistance Center and Journey Steel became certified as woman-owned small business in 2012 and as an 8(a) business in 2015.


"PTAC Counselor Hayward Chappell has been an invaluable resource, providing networking connections, relevant webinars and more," she said. "He has truly given me a contracting foundation to build on and I always feel comfortable reaching out to him with any questions."


Smith also has found value in the 8(a) program, indicating it has provided a wealth of information on the federal government market, access to the Mentor Protégé program, the ability to receive 8(a) contracts, and relationships with large, first-tier firms in Journey Steel’s industry is helping it grow.


In 2017, Smith accessed an SBA-backed line of credit to help her expand and in 2018, she enrolled in SBA's Emerging Leaders program, geared toward small business growth acceleration.


"Emerging Leaders is a valuable program with practical application," she said. "It helped me to focus on my business specifically and create a strategic growth plan with attainable goals."

By tapping SBA's access to capital and mentoring resources, Smith has grown Journey Steel from two to 20 full-time employees and wants to expand more with federal contracting.


"I think that the Emerging Leaders program has prepared the business to take that step and potentially double in size."


Smith also is translating her success into an opportunity for others and opening doors for women and minorities in ironworking via Journey Soaring Impact, a vocational program she established to train at-risk inner city high school seniors for construction industry careers. It provides safety training, ironworking skills and soft skills, giving them an opportunity to enter an ironworking apprenticeship and become an ironworker.

This article does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA of any opinions, products, or services of any private individual or entity.