Sundra L. RyceIn business timing is everything.  Last year SLR Contracting & Service Company lead by President and CEO Sundra L. Ryce, planned to spend the next 12 to 18 months going back to the basics.  Instead of focusing on growth SLR’s executive team planned to take some time out to make sure they were servicing customers and essentially implementing everything they did to initially become successful.

Based in Buffalo, New York, SLR provides a full line of services that include general construction, construction management, and other specialty work.  The company was established by Ryce in 1996 with a focus on quality work and customer service in the construction industry.   SLR’s timing in terms of going back to basics was fortuitous as the country’s recession followed soon thereafter.

In an interview with TNJ.com, Ryce said her company had made a conscious decision to be less aggressive in terms of sales.   “We planned to keep our sales flat so we could spend time on the business,” she said.  “So it actually worked out.”

How to survive a recession

This is not the first time SLR faced a shaky economy and remained standing. After the 9/11 tragedy the company’s sales dropped 67% according to Ryce. The company overcame this major setback and continued to grow.   Just two years later in 2003 SLR was ranked No. 4 of the top 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies in America by ICIC and Inc. Magazine. In 2008 SLR’s revenues topped $18 million.

“I think that there’s always a silver lining when it when it comes to difficult situations, it’s how you view them and how you prepare for them,” says Ryce.  “What we’ve done at SLR is to really look at this time, the opportunities that we have with our existing customers. I think there are great opportunities when you have partnerships currently in place because you can really look at maintaining quality and the special care and attention to business relationships.”

Stimulus Funding

To boost the sagging economy, earlier this year President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, yet an article written by Brittany Hutson in the Daily Challenge reported that Black contractors and advocates say they have seen “little to no money from the stimulus package.”

Len Britton, Executive Director for the New York State Chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, Inc, says that his organization wants more information on how minority owned companies can directly benefit from stimulus money. “We don’t know what the stimulus money is all about,” he told TNJ.com. “Where do you go, how do you get it, how do you qualify? How do you access this money?”

Right now according to Britton opportunities still exist with entities like the New York City School Construction Authority which has a mentoring program where small contractors can bid on jobs without required bonding and insurance requirements.  “We try to get our members onto that program,” he said.

Another opportunity for New York based companies is the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York(DASNY) which recently launched a Statewide Surety Bond/Capital Access Program.  This is a $3 million program designed to increase the number of MWBE prime contractors pre-qualified for bonding.  In an article appearing in Our Times Press, DASNY Executive Director, Paul T. Williams, said the program is an example of how a government agency can create opportunities for private sector companies. “The lack of available surety bond capacity for MWBE firms is a major barrier to their development,” Williams said and added” with this program we are building business skills and access to bonding and capital that will help firms compete successfully for public and private work.” 

Ryce says she has seen a change in her business in relation to the stimulus money. “How we’re affected is I do a lot of work for the government, some of our customers are now receiving stimulus money and they are committed to contracting to women owned business enterprises and minority owned business enterprises,” she said.  Ryce also reports that some state and federal projects that were previously on hold or delayed are now being released.  “It’s a good time for us now,” she said.  “It’s just a busy time.”

Women in construction

Ryce grew up in a family construction business and views the construction industry as a great business opportunity for entrepreneurs–especially women.   Her advice to those who would like to get started in the field is to look at the federal government and the Small Business Administration.  “In my experience those organizations are committed to enhancing women business enterprises and minority business enterprises,” Ryce said. “Look at corporations and companies that are committed to doing business with a diverse group of people. There could be major opportunities there.” Ryce recommends for the person in high school or college to look into getting internships with the larger construction companies that offer such programs.

Don’t let the economy stop you

While everyday there are news reports about the folding of another company due to the recession, Ryce still urges those who have the dream to own their own business to not let the current economic crises the country is facing be a deterrent.  “The economy is the economy,” she said. “When you have a dream or you have a vision of something you have to believe in that vision no matter what. The economy can fluctuate, business can fluctuate but you have to be confident to know that you can produce.” 

Ryce believes if you put the right plan in place you can make your vision or dream a success. “The economy is always going to fluctuate, but you shouldn’t let that stop you.” she said. “Be unstoppable.”

Ryce earned her Master of Science degree from Medaille College in Buffalo, New York, and serves as Trustee on a number of boards including the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and the Buffalo State College Foundation.  She’s also an ordained minister and professional speaker who shares her vision, creativity and business acumen through keynote addresses and seminars.