In 2003, construction engineer Floyd Simms was working as a project director for a St. Louis-area construction management company. In the middle of the project — an airport-related parking facility at Cypress Avenue and I-70 — his employer ceased operation.
"They told us on a Tuesday and by Friday the doors were closed," recalls Floyd. "It was right then that I decided if the doors were ever going to close again on a company where I worked, I was the one who would close them."
The path that took him to business ownership was one of successful progression. After earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri's College of Engineering, Floyd spent six years in bridge and highway construction with the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Later he returned to his hometown, where he worked for the City of St. Louis as a project manager at Lambert International Airport. Among his projects was building a glycol recovery system that helped make the airplane deicing process more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
He parlayed that three-year experience into a design position with the commercial construction firm Parsons-Brinkerhoff. There he designed and built the runway extension at Lambert Field.
That experience led to the Cypress Avenue parking facility job, which included several service buildings. Despite his employer's demise, Floyd remained on the assignment while working under the project's primary contractor, Brinkman Construction.
"But while I was finishing that job, I got serious about starting my own company," says Floyd.
He incorporated on Nov. 4, 2003, forming the Simms Building Group, Inc. He was a one-man band for a while, but soon hired his first employee, an administrative assistant to keep the operation organized.
"I felt a bit like Jerry McGuire when I made the pitch to join me in this new venture," he remembers.
Soon Simms Building Group landed its first job ... general contractor partner on the Cahill House senior living complex on O'Fallon Street in north St. Louis. While that job was underway, Floyd kept searching for more projects.
"In the construction industry, you have to be looking at least 12 months ahead for work," he says. "It's the nature of the business."
So with constant foresight and planning the construction jobs kept flowing to Simms Building Group. Floyd and his growing staff of superintendents and project managers tackled all sorts of work including commercial, industrial, educational and residential projects.
The St. Louis Housing Authority needed a two-story office building. Eagle Bank & Trust Co. wanted its new bank facility to include virtual teller stations. Simms built office, laboratory and maintenance structures for Center Oil's ethanol plant. The company also worked on several school remodeling and refurbishment projects, such as Jana Elementary School in Florissant.
But, construction has its up and downs. By 2008 demand for construction began to slow, as did everything else in the economy. Floyd felt he needed a little outside advice to help get through the downturn. He talked with Alan Richter, executive director of the Regional Union Construction Center in Wellston. Richter led Floyd to Kevin Wilson, director of the St. Louis region Small Business Technology & Development Center.
Wilson turned out to be a breath of fresh air for Floyd. The SBTDC director helped the construction owner view his business from a slightly different angle. Wilson also helped Floyd discover the advantages offered by FastTrac business training courses.
"I sometimes call Kevin my construction counselor," Floyd admits.
Wilson eventually urged Floyd to explore the possibilities of government contracting work through the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, a companion program with MO SBTDC.
Carolyn Jones, a MO PTAC counselor based in the same suite of offices as Wilson at 100 North Tucker, has helped Floyd set up a bid-matching profile to match his firm's capabilities with the needs of government agencies seeking construction services. Jones also is helping Floyd apply for certifications — such as a HUB zone (historically underutilized business zone) certification — to allow his firm to broaden its eligibility for government contract bidding.
"Carolyn and MO PTAC are tremendous resources," Floyd says. "And I've found Kevin Wilson is a very upbeat person. He's surrounded himself with a lot of talented folks at the SBTDC who know their business."
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This story was featured in the August 2011 newsletter.
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