Conversation with a leader

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 1:00am

Donna Lamb is president of the Nashville chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and owner of DJ's Construction Services, which celebrates its first year in business next month.

A native of Virginia, Lamb, 46, has been involved in the construction industry since 1985, three years of which she worked as a compaction roller operator. Following a major car accident, Lamb looked into the concrete industry management program at Middle Tennessee State University and enrolled in 1999.

Lamb oversees a Nashville NAWIC chapter that was chartered in 1959. About a fourth of the chapter's 22 members are business owners, with Lamb in her second year as president.

DJ's Construction Services focuses on final construction clean-up for the interiors of buildings, primarily apartment complexes.

What is the main challenge facing women-owned construction companies?

Most of the time it's difficult to prove to a man, especially a project manager or superintendent, that we can do the job as well as a man can. However, that perception in diminishing. There are female bricklayers, plumbers and electricians who are members of our organization.

Are you optimistic women will play a key role in the construction of the Nashville Sounds stadium?

Yes, very. We have proven ourselves in previous high-profile projects downtown.

On this theme, should there be a differentiation regarding the definition of "minority owned" businesses as it relates to companies owned by white women and companies owned by other minority groups?

This is a very sensitive issue, and there are no easy answers. Regarding the Sounds project, some have made a distinction between the two groups. And I can understand this. In many ways in this industry, all owners of construction businesses who are not white males face similar challenges and opportunities.

Is there one female-owned construction business in the Nashville market that has served as a role model?

For a year, I worked for construction consulting firm Connico Inc., which is based in Nashville. Connie Gowder is the owner and president of the company. Just watching how she ran her business both impressed and encouraged me to start my own business.

Because of the inherent dangers in the construction industry, there are many legal considerations. Your thoughts?

The industry can be very dangerous. But if people pay attention and follow the rules, a lot of the danger can be lessened. There are a lot more lawsuits in the construction industry than in other industries. We have seminars addressing this. Our Nashville NAWIC chapter has welcomed representatives of the insurance industry and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. These seminars have been very helpful.

What are your goals this year for the Nashville NAWIC chapter?

Increasing membership is a major goal. And education is important too. We encourage our members to take coursework and receive college credit. Specifically, NAWIC offers, through a separate entity called the NAWIC Education Foundation, certification for "construction industry technicians" and "construction document specialists," to name a few.

On that note, Middle Tennessee State University is now offering a degree in concrete industry management.

This is huge. In January of 1999, I enrolled in the MTSU program. At that time, concrete industry management was a concentration within the industrial technology degree program. There were less than 50 people at the time. Now there are over 300.

What type progress has the local NAWIC chapter made during the past five years?

We try different things each year. In March, we will have a "Women in Construction Week." This is a national event, but our chapter will celebrate the event by trying to raise money to build a home for a family by partnering with Habitat for Humanity.

What are the most impressive construction projects you have witnessed in the Nashville area since 2000?

I would say construction of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center is a highlight. American Constructors, the general contractor, has done a wonderful job. I have toured the site and it's amazing. The Gateway Bridge was a very impressive construction effort. Bell Construction did a fine job on that. And Fuller Industries Inc., which handled the resurfacing of the concrete on the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge, did a quality job too.

Your company will soon celebrate the completion of its first year in business? What type progress have you made?

I won my first account on my first day. I've gone from one apartment to six. I've done final clean-up projects for Venture Construction and J.E. Crain and Sons, for example. I would rate the growth of the company as a "seven" on a scale of one to 10.

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