Simms Building Group Inc. – St. Louis
- Published: Monday, July 1, 2013
In 2003, construction engineer Floyd Simms was working as a project director for a St. Louis-area construction management company. In the middle of the project — an airport-related parking facility at Cypress Avenue and I-70 — his employer ceased operation.
“They told us on a Tuesday and by Friday the doors were closed,” recalls Floyd. “It was right then that I decided if the doors were ever going to close again on a company where I worked, I was the one who would close them.”
The path that took him to business ownership was one of successful progression. After earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering, Floyd spent six years in bridge and highway construction with the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Later he returned to his hometown, where he worked for the City of St. Louis as a project manager at Lambert International Airport. Among his projects was building a glycol recovery system that helped make the airplane deicing process more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
He parlayed that three-year experience into a design position with the commercial construction firm Parsons-Brinkerhoff. There he designed and built the runway extension at Lambert Field.
That experience led to the Cypress Avenue parking facility job, which included several service buildings. Despite his employer’s demise, Floyd remained on the assignment while working under the project’s primary contractor, Brinkman Construction.
“But while I was finishing that job, I got serious about starting my own company,” says Floyd.
He incorporated on Nov. 4, 2003, forming the Simms Building Group, Inc. He was a one-man band for a while, but soon hired his first employee, an administrative assistant to keep the operation organized.
Soon Simms Building Group landed its first job as general contractor partner on the Cahill House senior living complex on O’Fallon Street in north St. Louis. While that job was underway, Floyd kept searching for more projects.
“In the construction industry, you have to be looking at least 12 months ahead for work,” he says. “It’s the nature of the business.”
With constant foresight and planning, the construction jobs kept flowing to Simms Building Group. Floyd and his growing staff of superintendents and project managers tackled all sorts of work including commercial, industrial, educational and residential projects.
The St. Louis Housing Authority needed a two-story office building. Eagle Bank & Trust Co. wanted its new bank facility to include virtual teller stations. Simms built office, laboratory and maintenance structures for Center Oil’s ethanol plant. The company also worked on several school remodeling and refurbishment projects, such as Jana Elementary School in Florissant.
Floyd Simms, president of Simms Building Group, completed the University of Missouri System’s Advocacy-Mentoring Program in 2011.
But demand for construction began to slow in 2008, as did everything else in the economy. Floyd felt he needed a little outside advice to help get through the downturn. He talked with Alan Richter, executive director of the Regional Union Construction Center in Wellston. Richter led Floyd to Kevin Wilson, director of the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in the St. Louis region.
Wilson turned out to be a breath of fresh air for Floyd. The SBDC director helped the construction owner view his business from a slightly different angle. Wilson also helped Floyd discover the advantages offered by FastTrac business training courses.
“I sometimes call Kevin my construction counselor,” Floyd admits.
Wilson eventually urged Floyd to explore the possibilities of government contracting work through the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC), a companion program with Missouri SBDC.
Carolyn Jones, then Missouri PTAC counselor based in the same office suite as Wilson at that time, has helped Floyd set up a bid-matching profile to match his firm’s capabilities with the needs of government agencies seeking construction services. Jones also is helping Floyd apply for certifications — such as a HUB zone (historically underutilized business zone) certification — to allow his firm to broaden its eligibility for government contract bidding.
“Carolyn and M[issouri]PTAC are tremendous resources,” Floyd says. “And I’ve found Kevin Wilson is a very upbeat person. He’s surrounded himself with a lot of talented folks at the SBDC who know their business.”
Floyd Simms (center) shakes hands with former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon after a roundtable discussion on small business topics. Simms was among several MO SBTDC and MO PTAC clients who participated in the roundtable in St. Charles County.
Wilson and Simms also explored low-interest Urban Enterprise Loan (UEL) eligibility and other funding programs. The UEL is designed to stimulate economic development and create jobs in urban communities.
Wilson helped Simms apply to the UEL program, and the UEL granted the Simms Building Group a loan in April 2012.
Simms wrote to Wilson, “Wanted to let you know that we closed today on the UEL! I also wanted to express my sincere gratitude for your helping me through this process. This UEL is the start of Simms being able to rebuild. These funds will help bridge us through upcoming work that can turn the company around in less than a year. Thanks again.”
As a direct result, in 2012, the Simms Building Group added five jobs when most construction firms were laying people off. Revenues rose nearly $4 million, to $12 million.
And Simms and Wilson continue to consult, exploring organizational change, coaching skills, implementing new technology, developing new strategies and services and implementing other potential changes.
“I’m just glad I’m able to help,” says Wilson. “His [Simms’] company is now trending in a positive way and looks a lot better than last year. I feel confident they will grow as St. Louis’ economy grows.”