Barbara J. Howell is a fearless woman on a mission. As the founder and CEO of Tamsah Enterprises (Tamsah), a woman- and Native American-owned multifaceted general contractor, Howell has made a name for the Ohio-based company through perseverance and positivity. “You’d be surprised what you can achieve when you don’t take no for an answer,” she says. “Today, you might tell me no, but you can bet I’m going to call you back tomorrow when my resume is broader.”
This attitude has assisted Tamsah in landing contracts with some of the biggest names in the business, from the Air Force, Navy and Army to Wal-Mart and General Mills; the same tenacity has helped Howell overcome serious odds as a minority business owner and single mom. “On Aug. 1, 2014, I will successfully graduate from the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) business development program,” she states.
A small force to be reckoned with
Howell officially incorporated Tamsah in 2005, the same year the company was certified by the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 8(a) program. Since then, the woman-owned small business has undertaken complex mechanical, electrical, plumbing and building automation projects for a range of federal facilities, as well as private clients.
“The SBA’s 8(a) program provides an opportunity for minority businesses to get off the ground,” continues Howell. “It makes getting your foot in the door easier with preference contracts and noncompetitive bids on military and government projects. If they see that you are a good citizen with a viable business and business plan, and meet their requirements the SBA will certify your small business as 8(a).”
With the SBA’s backing, Howell began promoting the startup company. “I started marketing myself and low and behold, soon I landed my first contract and it was at Cannon Air Force Base,” she said proudly.
Today, Tamsah calls Bellefontaine, Ohio, home; however, the company also has operations in Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, Fla. and Illinois. “We’re still a fairly small business with only 11 to 25 employees, depending on the projects we have going on,” notes Howell. “We’ve stepped outside of the typical Small Business Administration 8(a) market and we’re bidding on bigger, competitive projects, but I want to stay small and manageable; that’s important to me.”
For the last decade or so, Tamsah has honed in on nearly $72 million worth of military projects; totaling 90 contracts with the Navy, 56 with the Defense Logistics Agency, 16 with the Army and 13 for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to date. “What sets us standing apart from the crowd is skillfully performing mechanical services and plumbing in-house, that we are dedicated to providing the highest quality of service to our customers and work closely with them to ensure the final product not only satisfies their needs, but also exceeds their expectations,” notes Howell.
A growing military portfolio
One major hub of activity for the company is the Jacksonville, Fla., Naval Air Station (NAS Jax), where Tamsah has delivered a design-build hospital project and performed shoreline restoration and stabilization in addition to numerous other projects.
In an effort to prevent damage from the St. Johns River to runways and taxiways and to stabilize the base shoreline, Tamsah was responsible for 1,700 linear feet of shoreline rehabilitation. A new riprap system stabilizes the shoreline and mitigates the loss of embankments which has resulted in erosion and cloudy water inhibiting the growth of aquatic plants and animals.
Removing vegetation from the shoreline habitat reduces the population of nesting birds adjacent to the runway, lessening bird strikes. “We went in and took out trees and cleaned up the shoreline,” shares Howell. “Our team built a seawall and concrete walkway as well for the $4 million project.”
Tamsah has rehabilitated over 100 catch basins and sanitary sewer manholes with an epoxy lining system and has also relined more than 6,500 linear feet of 42-inch, 48-inch and 60-inch RCP Stormwater Drainage Pipe under the active taxiway and aircraft ramp, without closing or affecting airfield operations during construction. Being able to complete tasks ahead of schedule/on-time, within budget and without interrupting operations is a quality Tamsah strives for on every opportunity presented.
On the same base, Howell says one of Tamsah’s most standout military projects is the company’s design-build effort in the NAS Jax seven-story Naval Hospital. “We had to work in a crawl space underneath the hospital and replace all of their piping – sewage, steam pipe and domestic water – along with high-voltage electrical all while keeping the hospital going 24/7,” she recounts. “We had to hire a structural engineer just to get the materials down into the crawl space and there were major safety precautions to abide by. All in all it was a fantastic project that really showcased our talent.” Howell headed up the major design-build project herself, and according to her, it was great communication, teamwork and organization that led to the project’s success.
What started as a small painting company in North Carolina has evolved to a multimillion dollar construction company in Ohio with projects ranging in location from Tokyo, Japan, and across the United States. “I want people to know they can achieve whatever they want if they’re persistent and work hard,” Howell says. Through this mindset, Tamsah Enterprises has emerged as a small force to be reckoned with in the military market and beyond.
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