The “horse barn five,” members of A-West Enterprise return to their primitive office space on Edith Drive for a group picture. From the left are Lavon Davis, project manager; Garrison Jones, construction manager; Chris Joiner, project manager; Jeremy Meads, project manager and Eddie West, assistant manager. Today the company has grown to 48 employees. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — It takes nerve to start a new business in the greatest economic downturn in 70 years, then run it from a horse barn.
In less than four years Eddie West, assistant manager of A-West Enterprise, has taken the “little” company to its current glory days. From just two employees at the barn on Edith Drive, A-West, an electrical construction business, now boasts 48 full-time employees working from modern facilities at 705 Canal Street.
In 2013, Eddie accepted the coveted Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Small Business Award on behalf of Angi West, Eddie’s wife and sole owner of the company. It was an overnight success that was years in the making.
Eddie and Angi grew up in Albany, and got married in 1986 while Eddie was in the U.S. Air Force. When he returned from New Mexico where he was stationed, Angi’s late father, H.J. Williams, then president of JL Malone & Associates, a large electrical contracting company, asked Eddie to complete a one-year technical school program.
He complied and afterward went to work for JL Malone, completing a four-year apprenticeship. After that came Southern Polytechnical State University in Marietta, and a bachelor’s degree in construction, which Williams financed.
“I hadn’t been in high school for about eight years,” West said. “I studied at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table for about a year and a half, I think, doing all my algebra, my trigonometry and calculus — with her tutoring me.”
Upon completion of his degree requirements, in 1994, Eddie went back to work at JL Malone where he remained until 2001. That’s when he left for MetroPower, a multi-state company with an electrical construction division in Albany.
“(My father-in-law) always talked about me running his business,” West said, “so I was groomed to run a company. But I was wanting more than he was willing to let me do. I went to MetroPower and stayed there eight years and went right up their chain of command — just hit the ceiling.”
It was at MetroPower where Eddie met Garrison Jones, who became the impetus to leave and begin the construction company, West said.
“He was practically begging me to leave with him so we could start this thing,” West said. “There’s nothing wrong with MetroPower; he just wanted have his own company. It was 2009 and the economy was terrible.”
West said it wasn’t until he happened to watch a TV interview featuring Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that the tide was turned.
“It’s was kind of a town hall meeting,” West said, “with a lot of young students, and one of them stood up and asked Buffet the best thing to invest in. Buffet said the best investment was ‘himself.’ That was it for me.”
It was August when West and Jones loaded the little horse barn with computers set out on their own, and they soon discovered how tough it really was to land construction jobs with no completed jobs to show.
“We didn’t do any physical billing until February 2010,” West said. “Six months without billing anything. I learned we had to do some work, even if we didn’t make that much from it. We had to build a reputation for safety and all that. My goal was to be at $2 million in sales the first year and we did $5 million. That’s what I would have expected for this year. Last year was about $10 million, and this year we’ll do more than $13 million in sales.”
Today, the company website, www.awestenterprise.com, proudly illustrates some of the larger contracts A-West has wrangled, including jobs for the Albany Marine Corps Logistics Base, Georgia Tech, Clemson University, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton and even NASA.
West attributes the success of the company to the people they hire — pure and simple.
“It amazes me when I see people on the street and they say they can’t find good employees,” West said. “Everyone is hired on referral. I look for basically good people. I’d rather hire someone who doesn’t know anything about what we do and let them learn our good habits and bad habits. It’s hard to hire a skilled technition who works for another company because they want to come in and chage things to the way they did them.”
West described his wife Angi as “the conscience of the company.
“She doesn’t know a lot about what we do from day to day,” Eddie West said, “but she’s a very smart woman and she has a lot of her daddy in her.”