From Soldier to CEO – Marine Veteran Starts Successful Construction Business in Nebraska
Ask Marine veteran Javier Arias about the hardest thing he’s ever done, and he’ll tell you it wasn’t being a Marine – it was starting his small business! Arias served in the Corps for seven years as a heavy equipment mechanic, followed by some time in Logistics in the Nebraska National Guard. After multiple deployments, he decided to separate and worked with an oil and gas firm – but travelling eleven months out of the year quicky had him thinking about his next career move. He attended a networking activity focused on small business opportunities and doing business with the government and “it all kind of clicked. I took a leap of faith – something told me this is what you are supposed to do,” Arias said, and his momentum increased from there.
In August of 2016, Arias founded Turtle Creek Construction Company. He decided to get into the construction business because “it’s the easiest to get into without capital. With manufacturing and distribution you need a building up front. With construction, you can start slow and build up past performance.” Arias has been able to pull his logistics experience front and center into the business’s mission. Turtle Creek’s overall vision is to provide government purchasers with the most engaging experience possible and to quickly acquire goods and provide services that meet the needs of government purchasers.
Arias has worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration and resource partner Nebraska Business Development Center NBDC) since the inception of Turtle Creek Construction Company. “I thought starting a business would be easy – then reality smacked me in the face. NBDC gave me the resources I needed. I couldn’t have done it without their support,” Arias said. NBDC’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) counselors were able to provide consulting services that helped Arias get awarded federal contracts and subsequently to get accepted into the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, a nine-year program created to help firms succeed in the federal contracting marketplace. Businesses that participate in this program receive training and technical assistance designed to strengthen their ability to compete effectively.
When Arias first came to SBA for assistance, he had newly formed his business and had researched the 8a program and its benefits. Lisa Tedesco, Deputy District Director for the SBA’s Nebraska District Office, says, “Arias believes you have to ask a lot of questions and rely on the people that are experts to guide you. With the PTAC, we assisted Javier with his government contracting strategy and structuring his 8a application. Now, 2 years into the program, Turtle Creek Construction is thriving under the 8a Program and has now expanded into new service offerings after identifying changing needs with the government as a buyer. He was new to business and new to government contracting but we worked together to help him gain the confidence to move forward with his business and his marketing plan and within the first year, he won his first USDA contract. He understands the value of the programs offered through the SBA and its partners and has used that knowledge to grow his business from one employee to 8 in a short time.” And the success has paid off. In addition to procuring federal contracts, Arias has developed many beneficial relationships, including ones with manufacturers and distributors that will no doubt lead to future opportunities.
Another key component to his start-up success was obtaining a guaranteed loan through the SBA that he used for working capital as he became operational. Currently, Arias has 6 employees and two contracted employees. He is able to offer medical and dental benefits, and is very focused on creating a company culture. Arias states, “it’s not about the number of employees – I want to build a culture.” A key part of that culture is focusing on “doing the right thing.” The company and its employees are committed to finding solutions that make government purchasers’ lives easier. He’s also a big believer in using empathy, stating, “I want to put myself in the shoes of the person who will sign off on [the contract] – what do they want to see? We just focus on the task at hand and keep moving it forward.”
Arias believes that diversification is the key to Turtle Creek’s future. “Diversification is where it’s at,” he says. Arias is exploring work outside of the construction industry, including doing installations of products and equipment, developing Mentor-Protégé Agreements with larger companies, and getting involved with sub-contracting on Offutt AFB. Recently Arias has joined forces with engineering and medical professionals from Kansas and Arkansas to establish PSC Biosecurity, a company offering patented sanitization technology. He also has a longer-term goal of breaking into property management and fixing/flipping properties. His journey to success hasn’t always been smooth. Arias readily admits that “it wasn’t easy to get here. There were lots of bumps in the road.” He describes entrepreneurship as “not just a roller coaster – it’s a whole amusement park!”