Those that meet and those that know Laura Thomas would never say that she is disadvantaged in any way because she manages a beautiful family, gives back to her church and community, and owns and operates several successful companies. The truth is that Laura Thomas with her uncertified photographic mind has honed her skills of reading lips, understanding body language and detailing the facial expressions of multiple people simultaneously to compensate for what is generally deemed as a disability. She is primarily deaf. No, she does not allow the “d” word (disability) to be used in describing her. Professionally, Laura thrives in a male-dominated work environment as a LEED certified General Contractor in coastal Alabama. In a society screaming that Laura should be a victim of circumstances, she chose NOT to listen.
In 2010, MD Thomas Construction company began working with Procurement Specialist Gerald Dunlop; the Alabama PTAC and Alabama SBDC share office space throughout Alabama, providing an easy continuity of service to the small business community. Laura and Gerald recognized that the business needed more than just government contracting assistance to succeed and grow. That’s when Gerald referred the company to his SBDC counterpart for financing assistance and developing growth strategies for her companies.
In 2015 SBDC Business Advisor, Yolanda “Yo” Johnson invited Laura to attend a local event where Jeff Rouzie, Economic Developer for the City of Foley would give a presentation about a new development that the city was supporting. Laura not only attended but followed up with Yo’s contacts from that meeting that ultimately resulted in $1M in contracts over 2 years.
Laura and her husband, Mike, want to grow their business over the next 5 years. As they discussed their goals a critical issue for Laura to increase her business knowledge and capacity was revealed. Laura contacted her advisor, Yo, who introduced her to the Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Business Program. With encouragement from Yo she applied, interviewed, was accepted; Laura graduated from the program in December 2017. Laura said, “Mike nor I have a background in business and the whole point is that this program’s purpose is for my business to grow.” Mike is supporting her to take this step for their future, “I am positioned to get the work done for our planned growth but this opportunity will allow Laura to take the ‘business side’ to that level.”
Laura accesses the multifaceted services of the SBDC like a large corporation accesses the talents of its board of directors. Laura said, “It took me a long time to understand the resources I have access through the SBDC.” “When asked if I have an advisory council of sorts, I say no but I have Yo.”
As the construction company grows so has her need for additional bonding capacity so she requested Yo provide her with additional surety bond information and resources which was met with success by the SBDC “hub and spoke” model. This model has taken the concept of co-counseling to a team approach of statewide Business Advisors ultimately meeting the needs of the clients at a level that could never be achieved by one person. Based upon her new knowledge the client has strategically separated her bonding company from her insurance company, developed criteria for evaluating a bonding company and interviewing the list of companies provided with the goal of finding a set of bonding companies that have the capacity for her growth.
Laura’s need for financing of equipment and lines of credit is growing, therefore, her understanding of financing, banking regulations, the market have increased exponentially with the growth of her business. She contacts Yo about local banking practices which leads to conversations with Finance Specialist Suzanne Darden as to why blanket liens on accounts receivables should be a coveted asset and that commercial lending requires collateral coverage ratios of more than 1:1 the value of the loan. Armed with knowledge, Laura is negotiating with multiple banks for her $100,000 equipment line of credit.