Member Spotlight: Edna McKenzie
Founders of Midwest Select Contracting
Company Website: https://midwestselectcontracting.com/
Midwest Select Contracting LLC (MSC) delivers innovative, comprehensive environmental consulting and construction solutions in support of federal, state and county agencies
Edna McKenzie is one of our first finalists for the Center For Economic Inclusion Vanguard Accelerator initiative.
Can you please introduce yourself and your business?
My name is Edna McKenzie, and I am the proud founder and CEO of Midwest Select Contracting. We were founded on November 27, 2013.
We at Midwest Select Contracting are a company deeply rooted in our community, with a mission to deliver innovative and tailored environmental consulting and construction services to government, commercial, and energy markets. Our expertise in serving as contract administrators, construction managers, planners, builders, and construction inspectors helps us to assist government agencies, consultants, and contractors in meeting the demands of modern-day transportation infrastructure while ensuring sustainability and equity. We strive to improve the safety, reliability, and accessibility of our clients’ projects in a way that benefits the community and environment. As a women-owned, women-led, black-owned, and veteran-owned company, we are committed to delivering excellence and contributing to our community in every way possible.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Midwest Select Contracting is a company founded on the principles of care and equity. Our business mission and vision are inspired by my lived experiences. Prior to starting the company, I worked as a special education teacher and director, focusing on preparing students to live life as independently as possible, regardless of disability, including vision, hearing, and physical impairments. Through my work in the field, I observed that community streets and housing were unsafe and inaccessible to many people with disabilities. This led me to focus on making city streets, roads, bridges, and facilities safe and accessible for all. I achieve this by conducting on-site compliance inspections during construction or rehabilitation projects, ensuring that these projects meet ADA compliance standards and that roads and bridges are accessible.
How has your identity as a Black business owner impacted your journey so far?
Operating a business in a non-traditional field like construction can be challenging, especially as a woman, and even more so as a black woman. The impact of being a minority business owner can present many challenges. For instance, black women and black-owned businesses are often excluded from contracting opportunities due to the language and requirements in the RFP, the contract’s dollar value, and the insurance requirements. Minority business participation goals are not always met, which prevents companies from acquiring the skills and experience they need to scale their businesses. On the positive side, there are organizations like Founders First Center for Economic Inclusion, META, and other small business support organizations that have had a positive impact on helping black-owned businesses grow.
Can you share any challenges you have faced as a business owner and how you have overcome them?
Many small businesses, especially black-owned businesses, face challenges in terms of financial, informational, and technical requirements for procurement opportunities and RFPs. To overcome these challenges, it’s important to stay current with industry norms and standards on the federal, state, and local levels. This means obtaining and maintaining necessary certifications and licenses, and staying focused on your mission and vision. Be selective with opportunities that come your way, and say no to those that don’t build your capacity. Networking and building social capital is crucial, so stay connected with other entrepreneurs and like-minded groups or individuals. Learn about financial lending institutions and available resources that can assist your business. Understand your customer needs and be available to them, as people do business with those they know. Look for grant opportunities and pitch competitions, and seek out potential partners or mentors with skills and experience that complement your business. By focusing on these strategies, small businesses can overcome many of the challenges they face.
As a grant recipient, how did you use the grant funds to take your business to the next level?
As part of my business strategy, I plan to invest the grant funds in the growth of my team by using my funds to cover the cost of required technical training for newly hired employees. Since we serve a professional technical market, it’s crucial that our team members are skilled and up-to-date with the latest industry developments. By doing so, we can improve our service delivery and increase our competitive edge, which will ultimately lead to business growth and expansion. In addition, providing our employees with the necessary training will help us attract and retain top talent, which in turn will enable us to offer better employee benefits such as a 401k plan, etc.
Can you offer any advice for other entrepreneurs who are just starting their business journey?
To succeed in your business, you need to understand your industry and your customers’ needs. Take the time to build a network of credible financial options and lenders for when you need financial assistance. Don’t underestimate the value of social capital and networking. Stay focused on your business goals and create a strategic plan to achieve them. And remember to define what success means for you and your business. By investing in these areas, you can position your business for growth and achieve your desired outcomes.
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