Hurricanes Katrina and Rita left behind displaced families, flooded communities and a lot of people pointing the finger at each other. But often forgotten are the small-business owners who lost their livelihoods and were forced to let go of the employees who depended on them for a steady income.
That's what happened to husband-and-wife team Kevin and Daphne Davis, both 38, of Ace Construction Co., Inc., in Biloxi, Mississippi. They started their family-owned business in 1993 with less than $1,000, offering asphalt and concrete paving, debris removal and excavation services. Before Katrina, they had 12 employees, major clients-including government agencies like Stennis Space Center and the Keesler Air Force Base-and they completed 100 residential projects a year, earning nearly a million dollars in profits.
But last August, after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the Davises packed up all their essential paperwork, boarded up the office, gathered their three kids and left town. Kevin returned days later to find $300,000 worth of their construction equipment destroyed after being submerged under floodwaters.
Despite their strong reputation and federally recognized certification, they found themselves battling with out-of-state contractors who were able to make lower bids on even the smallest jobs.
"When I first came back to Biloxi, I was wondering, What are we going to do? But my husband never thought about leaving. He always said there's a lot to be done," says Daphne. Almost a year later the Ace Construction office is up and running. The Davises have replaced their equipment, reinvesting almost $400,000 into their company with some financial help from the Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance loan program and their local bank. Sales have almost doubled, compared with last year. But they are still facing the challenges of high overhead and retaining employees. They have had to depend more on long-term contracted projects and commercial jobs than residential jobs. The Davises have already completed a project for FEMA and are working on another for the Veterans Administration. Now that business is picking up, they feel as if their strategy is finally paying off.
"I was frustrated to see other contractors getting contracts over me, and I'm well-known in the area and highly capable," says Kevin. "I had to let it go. My wife and I had to stop, pray and regroup."
Secret of Success
"Be honest in your work, and try not to stretch yourself too far. We've been successful because we stick to two or three things that we do, and we do them well. We've built our reputation on that," says Kevin.
Credit: Peter Chin