This story is published with permission from the U.S. Small Business Adminstration Wyoming District Office.
The Small Business Administration has developed many small business loan and assistance programs, special outreach efforts and initiatives to aid and inform small businesses. For more information, visit https://www.sba.gov/offices/district/wy/casper.
Lovell is a small town with 2,393 people and zero big-box retailers, shopping malls or five-star restaurants. It’s 92 miles from Billings, 230 miles from Casper and isn’t really “on the way” to anywhere. So how did a small town like Lovell become home to one of Wyoming’s premier construction companies?
It all starts with the owner.
Stacy Bair was born and raised in Lovell but moved to California after high school for a change of scene. It’s not uncommon for someone from a small town to move to the big city, but Stacy’s story is far from ordinary.
On her own in California, she had to find a way to make ends meet – college wasn’t an option. Bair says she worked odd jobs in order to stay afloat before landing a position with a roofing company.
“I started as a receptionist, then after a year I was promoted to a position in human resources. Then from HR I went to purchasing, from purchasing to estimator, and eventually I became a project manager,” Bair said. “It was just through the old-fashioned way of working as hard as you can, learning as much as you can, and seeing if you can make something more of yourself.”
It wasn’t long before Bair was recruited by a larger construction company – this time for an office manager position. Bair says she stayed with the company for six years, but her goals were already starting to shift.
“I flew back to Lovell for a wedding and that’s where I met my husband. We got married, but I was able to keep my job with the company in California,” Bair said. “Soon, they offered me a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) position, but they wanted me to move back and work from California, so that’s what we did.”
Bair says it’s during this time she started becoming heavily involved with government contracts and completing federal and state projects. This experience provided the foundation for her future success as a contractor.
“I became very familiar with bonding, government programs and how to be successful in that arena,” Bair said. “But we wanted to have a family, and we knew we wanted to come back to Lovell and live here.”
Bair says she initially planned on working for another construction company in Lovell.
“That’s just really all I knew. I love federal contracting, I know it, I speak the language,” Bair said. “Then I thought, there aren’t many people out here doing this kind of work. And so, my husband – who’s very talented in construction – and I decided to bite the bullet and start our own business.”
Enter Bairco Construction, Inc., a then two-person operation with no reputation, no projects and no big market to tap into. However, the fledgling construction company had one thing nobody else did: Stacy Bair.
“Wyoming isn’t California, so we don’t have as many federal opportunities. We don’t have the Coast Guard, we don’t have the Army here,” Bair said. “As a result, most government agencies were used to dealing with very small companies who weren’t as familiar with the world of government. I was very familiar with it.”
Bairco’s first major project was as challenging as it was unique – build a fish barrier designed to protect a small population of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in an area inaccessible by construction equipment or helicopters. Piece of cake, right? Many contractors wouldn’t even think about accepting a project like that, but Bair made a bid, won and dove right in.
“We had to mix concrete by hand and find a creative way to divert the water around the jobsite,” Bair explained. “It was an old-school way of doing it, but our team got it done.”
The project was a success by all accounts. Bairco utilized cranes and winches to lower the crew, materials and equipment down to the river. It was a project that would help cement Bairco’s place in the Wyoming construction industry, but for Stacy Bair, the challenges were just beginning.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for only 9.1 percent of the construction workforce in America. Of that number, 45 percent work in an office environment (i.e. clerical, sales, human resources, etc.). Construction is a male-dominated profession, and it’s a difficult industry for women to break into.
Even with Bairco’s success during the Crooked Creek fish barrier project, Stacy was having a hard time landing the types of government contracts she knew her company could handle. Banks and other businesses would ask her to bring her husband along to finalize deals (even those requiring nothing more than a handshake). It didn’t matter that she’s president of Bairco and has always been the company’s key decision maker.
Undeterred, Bair began to think of a solution that would help her land the contracts and projects she needed to make Bairco a success. She remembered two of the three companies she worked for in California were part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program – an essential tool for helping socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs gain access to the economic mainstream.
“I was familiar with the socio-economic statuses and requirements for the 8(a) program, but I never thought about whether or not I could qualify,” Bair said. “But, after hitting roadblock after roadblock, I reached out to the SBA to see what my options were.”
According to SBA guidelines, business owners may qualify for the 8(a) program if they belong to a minority group, or if they can show “through a preponderance of the evidence” they are disadvantaged because of race, ethnicity, gender, physical handicap or residence in an environment isolated from the mainstream of American society. Under these guidelines, Bair successfully applied for the 8(a) program in 2009, and says it’s been an amazing experience ever since.
“We had contracting officers waiting to see if or when we’d be approved for the program,” Bair said. “Now, we’ve been able to do some great contracts through the 8(a) program which have given us the means, methods and capacity to do great contracts outside of the program.”
Bair says one of the greatest benefits of Bairco’s participation in the 8(a) program is how it forced the company to grow. She says one of the first jobs she was awarded was with a contracting officer Bairco had already performed a small job for. This new contract was for something much bigger.
“Well, this contract was for new construction – an office building for the U.S. Forest Service in Montana. Without the 8(a) program, we would have never had the nerve to just throw our hat in the ring for a new construction project with other competitive businesses,” Bair said. “It helped make us grow – both within the scopes of what we were willing and able to do and also the size of our company. It forced us into taking more chances, learning more, and allowed us to safely push the envelope to get where we are today.”
Bairco graduated from the 8(a) program in 2018, and currently employs 27 people. The company has increased its sales each year since 2015, with roughly 15 million made in total sales last year. They’ve never defaulted on a contract, and have met or exceeded requirements for every contract they’ve ever taken on. The company has completed contracts for The Department of Defense, Microsoft, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Interior and many others.
Bairco also takes pride in serving the Lovell community. They’ve donated more than $100,000 to local sports clubs, foundations, charity events, schools and community programs. They’ve donated a host of construction services, including demolishing hazardous buildings, golf course repairs and emergency water management solutions. In 2017, Bairco built a state-of-the-art fitness center to fill a void in the community and provide an opportunity for hundreds of people to live healthier lifestyles.
“Stacy and Bairco Construction utilized multiple SBA programs and services from the 8(a) business development program, including surety bonding, the loan guarantee program and the resources provided by SBDC network,” said Deb Farris, Deputy District Director, SBA Wyoming District Office. “She and her company successfully demonstrated how beneficial these programs can be when coupled with determination and hard work.”
Stacy Bair is certainly determined, and she’s proof that if you want a piece of the American dream you may just have to go out and build it yourself. When asked if she had any advice for women entrepreneurs, Bair said, “Do your best every day to make sure nobody has an excuse to treat you differently. Be the best you can be, and never let it enter your mind that you can’t do something as well as, or better than, anyone else.”