CRYSTAL LAKE – “Women are still forging new ground,” said Marianne Markowitz, regional administrator of the Small Business Administration.
Markowitz toured Direct Steel Thursday, a woman-owned general contractor, supply and construction firm at 3321 S. Route 31, Crystal Lake.
President Rosemary Swierk started the company in 2004.
“When you see women in engineering and architecture and construction, it is not as typical,” Markowitz said.
“You’re atypical, the field you’re in,” she said to Swierk.
“I get that a lot,” Swierk replied.
Direct Steel is one of several woman-owned businesses Markowitz is visiting in March in honor of Women’s History Month.
Swierk said the SBA’s counseling and assistance programs helped to keep her business above water during the recession.
“With the recession we really took a look at our business plan in 2009,” Swierk said.
That’s when she started focusing on government contracts.
“When you’re trying to figure out the federal contracting world, it’s not intuitive,” Swierk said.
Swierk said she found help through the SBA’s Women’s Business Development Center, Small Business Development Center, SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and and PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Centers).
The PTAC counselor helped her through the maze of government procurement paperwork.
“SCORE assigned me a retired general contractor as a mentor,” she said. “That relationship has been very beneficial.”
Since then, Direct Steel has constructed projects for a variety of government entities, including the Air Force, Veterans Administration and Army Corps of Engineers, among others.
“I still talk to him once or twice a year at this point,” Swierk said of her SCORE mentor. “And every time I talk to him I still get one or two ‘light bubs,’ pieces of information,” she said.
“We love to hear these relationships actually growing into mentor-type situations that are long term,” Markowitz said. “It’s great that you’ve used all of our resource partners.”
Direct Steel projects last year included Dorr Township’s new maintenance facility and town hall, Navistar in Melrose Park, Hines Veterans Administration Hospital, and TC Industries in Prairie Grove. Other local projects included Intermatic in Spring Grove and EPS Inc. in Marengo.
“As far as our planning goes, we’re very hopeful that this year is very similar to last year,” Swierk said. “We have so many irons in the fire, we fully anticipate 2014 to be another breakout year.”