AZ SBDC Success Award in January, 2011
Whiteriver Construction—Lakeside, AZ
Jason Carter believes that if he had learned about the Northland Pioneer College SBDC a decade earlier, it might have gotten his company into Forbes magazine sooner.
“I wish I had known about the SBDC when we first started out,” said Carter, a partner in Whiteriver Construction with Corydon Michael Cooley, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. “We learned the hard way for the first six years.”
The partners began working with the SBDC in 2000 to “learn about basic marketing principles, fine tuning the business plan and a lot about financial statements,” Carter said. The partners proved to be fast learners. Whiteriver Construction was ranked as one of the fastest- growing companies in the United States in 2008, 2009 and 2010 by Inc. magazine and was pro led in Forbes magazine earlier this year.
The partners first worked with Mark Engle and then with Tracy Mancuso, who came on board as Center Director in 2010. “We started doing market analyses to find out what we’ve accomplished and to establish the value of the company,” Carter said.
Engle had recommended the E200 series of classes offered by the SBA to Native American business owners. “It was very helpful,” Carter noted. The company went on to be featured in Forbes magazine and Carter was named one of the Top 20 individuals under the age of 40 in the construction and design business by ENR Southwest magazine.
Today, Whiteriver provides general contracting, construction management and design-build services for public and private clients in Arizona and New Mexico, including work for the National Park Service and for tribal entities.
Cooley founded the business in 1994 as a builder of chicken coops and barbed wire fencing. Carter joined as a manager and later became a partner. “One of our first projects was to repair a barbed wire fence around an Whiteriver Construction owners Corydon Mike Cooley and Jason Carter elementary school play area,” Carter explained. “Those first years were slow growth. In 1998 we decided to get bigger.” The company hired more people and doubled its revenue in 12 months.
One of Whiteriver’s highest profile projects was completed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, in Havasupai Village. A teacher housing complex took six months to complete.
“Every nail, 2 x 4 and worker had to be helicoptered to the bottom,” Carter said. The company was also hired to renovate the local jail. “I got to do a lot hiking that year,” Carter said. “I would hike down the Grand Canyon on Friday, spend the weekend on the project and then hike back out.”
“The most rewarding part of being a business owner is to be able to develop a plan and see it to fruition,” Carter said. “Leaving a legacy behind is also a great feeling.” Whiteriver counts the renovation of the Monument Valley Visitors Center as one of its legacy projects.
“It takes a lot of hard work to own your own business,” Carter stressed. “It takes long hours, dedication and you can’t think that you know it all. That’s where the SBDC comes in. Having a mentor helps. You have to listen to the advice of others who have been there before.”