On The Level, This Local Business Enterprise Leads the Way

Eric Jones’ careful, yet steady approach is paying off.

“Before, I’d be doing all these jobs and then using the [profits] to buy my own equipment. I’d get a truck, or a bobcat and other things. People said I was crazy, but when the work dried up, I had the edge because I didn’t have to lease anything, and so I could bid the project for less than the next guy,” said Jones. “Smaller companies, particularly Local Business Enterprises, often feel like they’re at the whim of larger contractors who will try to impose the scope and size of their contracts on their smaller subcontractors.”

“All that glitters is not gold,” he continued. “Learning how to lay out a job, what to put into the front end versus the back end so you can effectively manage the project’s inevitable challenges and still make it all the way through project completion, that’s the trickiest part about being small—making sure money is always coming in.”

Since its inception in 2013, the Contractors Assistance Center has been helping small, local business identify, compete for, and perform on city projects through individualized trainings, business plan development and mentorship opportunities with more experienced firms.

“You never stop learning and growing in this business, but you have to be patient. Pankow is actually giving me a lot of help on the safety side.” Jones also credits his mentorship with another company for encouraging him to focus on growing his business. “I do eighty percent of my own estimating. I still run the crews and spend time on site visiting my jobs. I’ve been the project lead since I was 26 years old, and I’ve learned you get better results if people feel like they’re part of something. Through my mentorship with Plant, they’re teaching me to delegate to other people; that’s really the only way to grow.”

Whether learning how to identify and gain new competitive licenses to work on city projects, or receiving one-on-one small-business support in areas such as accounting, marketing, and payroll, the Contractors Assistance Center has provided networking opportunities and helped connect large, experienced firms with new or small but growing firms. For companies like On The Level, mentorship can be a vital component of learning how to bid and invoice for their work effectively and to avoid many of the pitfalls new companies often face without years of experience to inform their process.

When asked what his long-term goals are, Jones replies, “I don’t have to be some huge billionaire, or anything like that. My goal is to not be a big company. I try not to over-extend myself. I kind of want to get to mid-sized. For me, every time I ride through the airport, I think about my first job there. I ride through the station and I say, man I can’t believe I did that. I still get a thrill of finishing something and stepping back and taking a look at it.”