Plum Contracting, Inc. Executive Shares Their Small Business Story at the White House
Like many construction companies in Pennsylvania, March 2, 2020 was an exciting day for Plum Contracting, Inc., a long-standing customer of Cleveland Brothers. It was time to get to work after a full winter shutdown.
Plum Contracting, a full-service highway and bridge contractor located in Greensburg, Pa., started on the majority of its projects the next day. Then, on March 16, everything changed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“On the 16th, we received the update that PennDOT [The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation] was shutting everything down,” said Plum Contracting Executive Vice President Ali Mills. “We laid off 127 total employees that day. Those were scary times and we had a lot of sleepless nights.”
The Turning Point
However, help was on the way. On Friday, March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law the CARES Act, which included the new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Plum Contracting applied and received the loan which helped the company bring back the majority of its employees from lay off.
“The PPP loan really did help us,” said Mills. “We survived off of revenue from the past year until March 1 when we came back full force. Then two weeks later, we got shut down. Two weeks was not enough to bring in any revenue.”
In addition to the loan, more good news came to the company with announcement of the opening of some highway construction projects. In April, 61 projects were released, including three of Plum Contracting’s jobs, which, according to Mills, was a “blessing” because more employees were able to be called back to work.
“Hopefully with highway back it’ll restore our economy and release the strain on unemployment,” she added.
The Call from Washington, D.C.
The good news kept on coming. On Friday, April 24, the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania (CAWP) Chapter was contacted by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) asking for members interested in discussing the PPP loan with a representative of the White House. The CAWP submitted several success stories, including the one from Plum Contracting. Mills, a board member and executive committee member of the CAWP, received the confirmation call two days later that she was invited to visit the White House and officially meet with President Trump to share how the PPP loan had impacted the company.
Mills traveled to Washington, D.C., on April 28, and was part of a group of small business representatives selected to meet with President Trump; First Daughter, Ivanka Trump; Steve Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; and Jovita Carranza, Small Business Administration Administrator. She was also invited to present her story in front of members of the press.
“I was humbled to be able to represent our industry, my family’s business and our employees at the White House,” she said. “Both the president and Ivanka were genuinely interested in what was going on in Pennsylvania compared to other states.”
The experience continued from there to the Oval Office where the group spent more time with the president and Ivanka, sharing their stories. Mills was then pulled into a private meeting with Ivanka, where they discussed Plum Contracting and the CAWP more in depth, including Future Road Builders, a free game that explores the skills needed to be a construction professional.
“With the game, we are just trying to educate applicants before they go into the trades,” said Mills. “It’s a great industry; it’s a career—you’ll make a great living out of it. My husband is a tradesman and I couldn’t be prouder. They’re the ones building. They’re at the front lines for us.”
The experience at the White House is one Mills will never forget. She left there excited and optimistic about the future and has been in further contact with Ivanka’s team at the White House about Plum Contracting, CAWP and the apprenticeship opportunities available.
“The White House experience made me optimistic that things will get back to normal,” said Mills. “It was a feel-good moment walking out of there.”