Ed Nesmith Built Huge Minority Construction Company Against Odds, Working With All Unions Along The Way

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by Cassie Hepler

Ed Nesmith is a grassroots kid who never abandoned South Philadelphia.

Born and raised at 4th & Federal Streets, Nesmith had a rough childhood. In 1968, his father, a committeeman, was killed right across the street from where Nesmith built his business.

Ed Nesmith knows inclusion is key.

ED NESMITH knows inclusion is key.

No matter who is endorsed by the Democratic Party leadership, of which he is a member as leader of the 2nd Ward, Nesmith periodically finds himself in opposition when he feels another candidate for the same position is better.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why he’s the only African American ward leader in the city whose ward is 75% Caucasian.

“African American leaders we have had are not uplifting the African American population, particularly the last two. They don’t show economic development for people of color,” he said. “I picked Jim Kenney in the primary because he is a South Philly leader who knows the city.”

“Some Council Members feel like they are entitled,” he said.

“I showed the political leadership in this town what I can do without money. You need sweat and determination. To this day, I’m up at 5 a.m. before the sun comes up. A lot of good people get chased out of the city because people don’t embrace them.

“How can we have so many African American leaders in the city and have no wealth? We need to make officials work for us and not for themselves,” he said.

“Everything I learned, I earned. No one’s handed me anything. What about the people who really do the hard work? I was told to move to North Philly if I wanted to run for office and hope to be elected. I said, ‘I’m from South Philly.’”

For a while he worked as Deputy Sheriff, and then moved on to work in the office of the 1st Councilmanic Dist. He had full authority by the Councilman to represent people in court. And from there, the passion of politics and helping people combined into one. It has never left him.

Nesmith is big on helping women and minorities find work in the city.

Nesmith has put his mouth and his company to work on behalf of minority employees. Since opening his business in 1998, he has employed roughly 1,800, of which over 35% were women and minorities.

“The University of Penn, Drexel and Temple wanted to have inclusion and I told them the only way women and people of color are getting opportunities is by having them there from day one,” he said. “The city could put up a bond for African Americans and women in the city. But the guidelines don’t work for us in the city for people of color.”

“Sacks Playground at 4th & Washington did a project. PHA was knocking down buildings and the neighborhood couldn’t get any work,” he said. “We protested for two weeks. Shoemaker & Dale construction companies were in charge of the construction and the owner asked if we could sit down and talk. I wanted to see some people of color employed. Dale Litner, Sr. then became my mentor in the construction business, God bless his soul.”

Into The Construction Business

President/CEO Ed Nesmith started Nesmith & Co., Inc. doing cleanouts with help from Dale Litner, Sr., who headed the demolition project for Shoemaker and Dale. In the beginning he took some heavy hits, borrowing money from where he could and selling properties he owned to make sure he met all his obligations and on time, earning the fine reputation he now has in the worlds of construction, business and politics.

“I always contact elected officials for information on minority contracts,” he said, and ask them the obvious question, “How is it the biggest African American contractor cannot get any contracts?”

Today, Nesmith is the only ward leader that runs his own business.

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NESMITH AND COMPANY Building dominates Graysferry area in South Philadelphia at 25th and Tasker Streets.

Building homes, solar roofing and more have kept Nesmith busy. Today he is considered one of the city’s major contractors and the biggest of minority contractors.

His company is a Philadelphia-based MBEC Construction Contractor & Material Supplier, specializing in construction management, commercial and residential carpentry, electrical installations, and interior/exterior painting projects. Each of its divisions has full AutoCAD capabilities.

With an uncompromising commitment to excellence, Nesmith & Co., Inc. consistently provides superior construction services. With a combined experience of over 40 years in the construction business, the management team, he put together, brings a high level of professional expertise and dedication.

This winning combination greatly enhances his company’s ability to deliver quality projects on time and within budget. It has partnered with, and supplied, subcontractor-support services to many of the larger construction management and general contracting companies.

Building strong relationships with such companies as Hunter Roberts, Dale, Turner, Westrum, TN Ward and L. F. Driscoll, has provided the opportunity for Nesmith & Co. to be recognized as a local MBE contracting company on HUD and state-funded projects.

In 15 years of business, Nesmith & Co. has logged millions of dollars in completed projects. In addition to building respect in the construction industry, CEO Nesmith believes in building up our communities.

Nesmith & Co. makes every effort to not only be a model partner in business, but a model partner in local community endeavors. Nesmith invests his personal time and resources into developing community-based jobs and running summer and after-school sports programs.

“I’ve been running programs since I was 13 … and I’m almost 60 now,” Nesmith affirmed. “The integrity of our people is the integrity of our company.”

Nesmith would like to help prisoners get back to work through his company; however, getting work for them is another story through the city.

“The city talks a good game about helping offenders get jobs when they have served their time. But, why is it, they don’t offer us any jobs for those coming out of prison and in need of work. People always say ask your state senator, but I’ve done that,” he said. “People can contact me and I can try to help.”

Nesmith and Company can’t be classified as small fry these days. Its projects at this moment total over $100 million in carpentry and painting and over 20 million in newly acquired electrical jobs. It has contracts with the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, Local 98 (Electrical), Local 332 (Laborers), Local 542 (Operating Engineers), District Council 21, IUPAT (Painters and Allied Trades) Local 351 (Electrical) in New Jersey.

To handle it all, Nesmith has amassed an inventory of tools and product of well over $10 million, filling his headquarters building, ready to be used, no matter the demand.

In the last 16 years, the company has had a total of 1,275 employees of which, over 400 were minorities, for an historic average of more than 30%, the highest in Delaware Valley.

“We have numerous affiliations with organizations designed to promote businesses and growth. We’ve done business with big entities like Comcast, and Learning Entities such as UPenn, Drexel, and Temple, and we’ve done many small jobs for up and coming businesses. We are responsible for the training and hiring of hundreds of new workers, starting into the construction business,” he stresses.

Over the past 16 years, Ed Nesmith developed a construction template for small business owners in his field in which minorities were shunned for attempting to participate. This template consists of a small, efficient office crew, both proficient in management of jobs, while maintaining a low overhead in job cost and labor. The results of this effort are easily observed.

“Some people have asked in the past, ‘Why Mr. Nesmith? Why would you subject yourself to a field of work that clearly has hostilities towards disadvantaged people?’ These are questions that have plagued many minority business owners for years. Since before the 2000, you couldn’t count five Black construction business owners on your fingers, let alone prosper at it. Minorities were hard-pressed to get on construction jobs without being in a Union and the Unions back then were simply not letting you in,” he admits.

Ed Nesmith had a stance it could be done with persistence and excellence of work. Nesmith & Company was the vehicle he used.

As with most startup businesses, Ed Nesmith knew he had to face a “struggle curve in which you find money scarce and can barely stay afloat until your staying power is established. Establishing a relationship with the Unions such as the Metropolitan Region Council of Carpenters and other locals, while getting workers who are skilled earned me the leverage to produce good work.”

Nesmith is proud of his ability to live up to MBE participation requirements. Few companies hit what his company has done from the beginning. Some manage to do for maybe a year, he said. “We’ve reached as high as 30% in MBE participation and a Section 3 participation rate of 40% average for and maintained them for our 16 years.”

Ed Nesmith’s goal was to give opportunities to minorities who otherwise would never have gotten the chance to get into the construction fields. He proudly points to the fact Nesmith & Company ”became the tool that enabled our community’s people to rise up and be empowered to support their families by being able to work and provide shelter and food.”

Keep in mind, he could have walked away from this endeavor, since he already enjoyed a good income before starting the company. But he took the leap into building Nesmith and Company, knowing the difficulties he faced because of his goal to pry open a closed field in the building trades for minority workers.

“Imagine you start a company in which, you could not hire who you wanted or needed, you could not get paid when you were promised payment, you  had to pay upfront to work, and you take the blame for every failure whether it was your fault or not. Would you stay? I daresay most people would not, and the construction business is a prime example for these types of interactions,” he recalls.

Nesmith & Company continues to promote change and second chances by facilitating the hiring of incarcerated youth who have paid their debt to society. He says “I have found many of these I hired have been some of the hardest and most diligent workers out there.

“We have never shied away from being responsible as a company. Through our 16 years we are proud of the fact not one of our employees missed being paid on time,” he said.

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One Response to Ed Nesmith Built Huge Minority Construction Company Against Odds, Working With All Unions Along The Way

  1. I’m a female Cement Mason in Local 592 journeyman, 4 1/2 years. I am still calling out of the union hall for work. There is a limited amount of women in our local. We only have three female cement masons in the city of Philadelphia. Does your company have any opening available for a hard worker? I have my OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 card along with Twix card. I can be reached at number (267) 239-6096. Thank you.

    Shawn darty
    January 30, 2018 at 1:27 pm

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