Relationships fuel business growth, says (High Tech Construction) contractor
Providence Business News, Feb. 25-March 5
By Denise Perreault
If you are looking to build a successful business, Joe DaLomba has a recipe he's happy to share. It takes hard work, that's for sure, and lots of it. And a positive approach to life. Strong relationships with the people who work for you and the people you work for are also critical, says DaLomba, president of High Tech Construction.
The ingredients are drawn from his own experience building the Central Falls business, located at 888 Lonsdale Ave., from scratch. He's a prime general contractor with more than 20 years in the business, bonded at $5 million.
"When I wake up in the morning, I don't see negatives, I see problems to be solved," DaLomba said recently. "After 20 years, I still enjoy what I am doing, more and more every day."
His interest in the building trades began even before he came to this country in 1976 from Senegal, West Africa, when he was about 20 years old, to live with relatives already here. His father and grandfather had been masons in Cape Verde, where DaLomba was born. "I always did like building things," he said. Settling on Clay Street in Central Falls, he took English-language classes at Tolman High School in Pawtucket, undeterred by crutches and the heavy plaster cast that covered his leg and almost half his body - the results of a motorcycle crash before he left Africa. He worked with a contractor for free for a time because "I just wanted to learn. I wanted to educate myself in the construction industry."
But the free lessons weren't enough, so DaLomba enrolled at New England Institute of Technology, graduating in 1990 with a degree in heating and plumbing. Working out of his home, he started High Tech Construction in 1987, working all day and going to school five nights a week. His first job was to renovate three bathrooms in a three-family home on Main Street in Central Falls, work he did by himself.
"I built this business with my own hands," he said. "Persevering through the years, working seven days a week, I was always in my dirty clothes." High Tech Construction is the largest certified minority general contractor in the state, according to the R.I. Minority Business Enterprise Office. In 1998, the U.S. Small Business Administration named DaLomba minority small-business person of the year.
Charles Newton, administrator of the R.I. minority business office, has known DaLomba for many years. While he agrees that DaLomba is a hard worker, that's not what he thinks makes him special. "Anyone who wants to go into their own business has to know that they're going to be working 50 or 60 hours week," Newton said.
DaLomba, he said, is "extremely aggressive from a business standpoint. He cuts a tough deal, but once he does, he honors his commitment."
And he always does more than the minimum requirements on a project, Newton added. DaLomba himself believes a key to his success has been his ability to forge strong partnerships. "The only way a company can grow," he said, "is to build strong relationships with the people you work with, and by serving the people you work for."
He has the same suppliers, the same estimators he's always had. Today, High Tech has a staff of 15 people and a full complement of all the latest construction equipment, including backhoes and Mack trucks. His stylish office is on the ground level of a double tenement on Lonsdale Avenue that DaLomba bought in 1991 when it was a burned-out wreck. He showed a visitor pictures he took of the black, cindery ruin before he spent three years rehabbing it. "We had water coming in, bats upstairs," he recalled.
DaLoma put a lot of thought into the kind of business he wanted to start. "I did not want to be just a specialized contractor, focusing on doors or windows," he said. He wanted to be a prime general contractor, the top dog, the guy who pulls together all the development strands into one smoothly woven project. He's the one who buys the land, designs the home, builds and sells it.
High Tech handles renovations as well as new commercial and residential construction throughout Rhode Island.
"Once a contract is signed," DaLomba said, "we focus on working with the customer, making sure they like what we're doing."
Among his recent projects are: a $3.8 million job for Storage America facilities, two in Pawtucket and one in Lincoln, that involved conversion of office and industrial space to commercial use; construction of "high-end" homes in Smithfield and Lincoln and the $650,000 renovation of the Snug Harbor Volunteer Fire Station in South Kingstown.
He currently is general contractor for the $640,000 Aids Care/Ocean State Housing project in Providence. He's especially excited about his plan to build a sushi bar on Thayer Street on Providence's East Side.
Although there are sushi bars in the state, DaLomba promised that this one "is going to be like nothing ... there is now." He will be a co-owner and declined to reveal any details, except to say he's seeking needed permits. The restaurant will be located in a renovated building.
Future plans and goals for the father of two sons, Cedrick, 10, and Julian, 12, also include launching a Web site soon and reaching "the $10 million bonding capacity by next year," he said.