Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Minority-Owned Firm Helped By SBA

Family-owned JCP Construction, helped by SBA training, now at work on NM Tower.

Jalin Phelps works in his new office. Photo by Stephanie Harte.

Jalin Phelps works in his new office. Photo by Stephanie Harte.

It has been a big year for JCP Construction. The minority-owned business started by brothers James, Clifton and Jalin Phelps moved into a new building at the end of November and was named Subcontractor of the Year by The Daily Reporter as part of its 2015 Newsmakers of the Year awards. The Daily Reporter covers Wisconsin’s construction and design industry.

A little more than a year ago, JCP began work on its largest project, the Northwestern Mutual Tower at 720 E. Wisconsin Ave., where it is the prime contractor for waterproofing. The company also is working on the drywall and framing of the building.

Jalin graduated in October from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders Initiative. The 26-week course helps participants develop a three-year growth plan for their businesses. The course is composed of classroom sessions taught by Gene Wright, director and lecturer of graduate management programs at Milwaukee School of Engineering, guest lectures and peer group meetings, where participants network and discuss plans.

Jalin and James Phelps moved the business to a new space on 1849 N. Martin Luther King Drive. Photo by Stephanie Harte.

Jalin and James Phelps moved the business to a new space on 1849 N. Martin Luther King Drive. Photo by Stephanie Harte.

Mary Trimmier, lead economic specialist for SBA, said that most business executives don’t set aside time to determine how to expand. The Emerging Leaders Program helps them put together a growth plan centered on their leadership style.

Wright has been teaching the course for eight years. He said he was not interested in the program when he was first recruited since he thought SBA was just “throwing money at businesses.” After learning that the SBA’s mission is to create jobs by providing businesses with the framework and resources they need to expand, Wright wanted in.

“I enjoy being able to meet a business when they are really small and help them grow,” Wright said.

The Phelps brothers started JCP in 2008 during the recession. Jalin said the decision was based on economic need because he and James were having trouble finding construction projects and decided to take action. Clifton worked for a nonprofit and had no construction experience before joining the company. He oversees the administrative side of the business.

“With the economy down and construction down, banks did not have an appetite to finance us,” Jalin Phelps said. “We had to learn to keep everything tight from the time we started.”

Phelps said the program taught him how to talk to bankers and understand their language. Bankers were invited to classes so participants could practice giving their “elevator speeches.”

“It was nice to learn how to have a bond and relationship with them (bankers and financers) and not just go to them when in need,” Phelps said. He added that he appreciated learning from real-life experience and not from a textbook.

Wright said he structures the course so participants choose what they want to work on. If necessary, he connects them with someone in his network who can answer their questions.

“We want them to be exposed to programs they weren’t previously exposed to,” said Eric Ness, Wisconsin district director of SBA. “We want them to incorporate all the pieces they learned into their growth plan.”

JCP now has 28 carpenters and nine people working in the office. “Our family-oriented company helps us bond with everyone we work with,” Phelps said. “It is important for us to make sure our guys are out there doing quality work.”

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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