HAMMOND | Thanks to an in-depth analysis of her “green” general contracting company by four Purdue University Calumet students, owner Sharon Johnson, of Gary, said that she will take SAJ Construction Services “to the next level.”
A PUC graduate, Johnson was one of four business owners who signed up for consulting services offered through the university’s Small Business Consulting class during the fall semester. On Wednesday, the 17 students enrolled in the class made their consulting presentations for their clients, other business owners and university representatives.
The free consulting services are part of the university's experiential learning initiative that gives students workplace experiences in their majors, said Ralph Rogers, PUC vice chancellor for academic affairs.
“This allows our students to be engaged (and) to understand what is expected of them when they join a company,” Rogers said. “Our students bring new eyes and new solutions for area businesses. It’s a win-win operation.”
The assistance is also integral to PUC's Small Business Institute, which already has worked with more than 100 small businesses in Northwest Indiana and south suburban Illinois, said Management Professor Jamaluddin Husain, class instructor.
Johnson has major advantages because SAJ is a female- and minority-owned business, said Justin White, of Munster, a senior majoring in entrepreneurship and accounting.
“In the last six years, she has completed 250 projects with more than 35 clients. She offers a variety of integrated services including design-build, green building and energy services.”
However, SAJ has more than 1,500 competitors in the Calumet area, some of whom have been in business for decades, White said.
Johnson was very cooperative, providing needed data and access to both clients and job sites, said Johnnie Young Jr. of Dolton, a senior majoring in entrepreneurship. That information included the need for more outside capital, he said.
Amanda Martinez, of Crown Point, said the analysis of SAJ Construction Services revealed a number of strengths and weaknesses.
“SAJ is too diversified. That leads to an undefined niche,” Martinez said. “There is also a lack of an online presence.”
To help Johnson solve those issues, the team went beyond analyzing the problems and developed solutions, said Clare Orellana, of Whiting, a senior entrepreneurship major.
“We believe she needs to define her niche as green rehab and small new construction. As entrepreneurs, we know we can’t be everything to everyone,” Orellana said.
They also recommended Johnson move her headquarters to the Hammond Innovation Center in downtown Hammond.
The team created a website for SAJ and a Facebook page that will give SAJ an online presence, and contacted Thomas Neuffer, vice president of business banking at Centier Bank to help Johnson develop sources of financing.
“These guys are phenomenal. Everyone was so well-informed,” Johnson said after the presentation. “I will absolutely incorporate their recommendations into everything we do. It inspires me to want to be better and bring more to the community and to leave a green footprint.”