Not much has come easy to Angelica Rivera over the past decade. However, the struggles she’s faced have forced her and her company, Colmex Construction, to meet challenges head on and persevere, ultimately creating a business that is successful along with an extremely bright future.
In the mid-2000s, Angelica was a mortgage broker in Florida with a background in administration. She was doing well until 2007 when the bottom fell out in the housing industry during the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Angelica’s husband, Roman Lopez, who had a background in construction, moved to New Orleans that same year to utilize his skills helping the city rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Angelica followed in 2008 and the two decided to start a company initially performing framing and smaller jobs, and later adding construction and renovation services to its portfolio.
Rivera admits her initial lack of experience in the construction industry, but she made up for that with her mortgage background and ability to run the back end of the business. Roman and some of his experienced construction colleagues provided the boots on the ground labor and together they made a good team.
“When we first started Colmex, we started from scratch,” said Rivera. “We didn’t have much of anything. We didn’t have money and didn’t know anybody.”
Rivera opened the business with a unique philosophy that has served Colmex well as she’s moved forward developing the company’s culture over the last decade. “From the beginning, we never focused on making money,” explained Rivera. “We focused on doing a good job and helping other people—whether that was our clients or our employees—and really trying to create a family environment.” Rivera also has a passion for continuing education and initially took as many classes as she could to bolster her construction industry knowledge. In addition to learning more, she also networked, met many people and gained business connections.
Another obstacle Rivera encountered was being the face of a woman-owned business in a predominantly male industry. She remembers attending meetings or going to bids and having the feeling that she was not being taken seriously. “One time a guy came up to me and told me that I needed to be at home with my kids. I took that as a challenge and it made me try even harder.”
Overall, Rivera said that New Orleans and Louisiana have both been very supportive. “For small business, there is no better place to start a company than here in Louisiana,” she said. “I have been able to work with some great people and utilize a number of organizations’ programs like the Good Work Network, NewCorp, Urban League, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.”
One of the things Rivera learned over the years is that company owners need to not only work in the business, but on the business. Even though it was hard, she had to learn to delegate work to her employees, so she could focus on building her company culture, family-like atmosphere and employee satisfaction, which are all part of her original goals. She now holds weekly meetings with team members, and invites employees working on different job sites to the home office on Fridays to play basketball and Ping-Pong. The company holds an annual trip to the beach for all employees and families where business goals and objectives get discussed along with plenty of downtime and recreation. These efforts help to make employees feel part of a team and improve overall job satisfaction.
Today, Colmex Construction has grown to become a leader in all phases of the residential and commercial construction industry. The company has worked with residential homebuilders like Harmony Homes, Providence and Jeremiah Road. In the commercial sector, Colmex recently completed a big renovation for Audubon Elementary, another renovation of Mahalia Jackson Elementary, and the Guste III multi-family apartments. The company has grown from its four original employees to 23 with an additional 35 subcontractors.
With strong core values, a family-oriented environment and a culture that focuses on employee satisfaction, Angelica Rivera and her team at Colmex Construction are poised for even more success in its second decade.
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