Heather Weerheim (00:05):
Today’s guest here is Nancy St. Geramaine with Raven construction and welcome. Thank you for joining us. I wanna talk about the first time I met you. We met for coffee in uptown, and I just have to set this story because I was a project manager at Greiner Construction for many years, and that was my life. And I took pride in that. I felt like I understand how to schedule a job site or a project. I know how to schedule a job site, ultimately. I run work and lead meetings and I was really confident in that role in construction. And then we both showed up on time. We were prompt and you get out of your work truck and you had on your work boots and the whole thing. And I’m like, okay, so not only does Nancy do what I do, but she can actually do the work. And is that true? Like you can do
Nancy St. Germaine (01:00):
I do the work.
Heather Weerheim (01:01):
Do you wanna do the work?
Nancy St. Germaine (01:03):
I love to do the work. Yeah. I love it. That’s part of my challenge is that it’s hard for me to get out of the field. I still love to use my hands and be a part of changing the environment and working with the clients and, you know, helping to train my staff and yeah, I love everything about construction.
Heather Weerheim (01:20):
I thought that was really cool. And I can tell that you are passionate about the work that you do. So, if you’d be so kind, will you tell me a little bit about how Raven started?
Nancy St. Germaine (01:30):
Let’s see, I was working, I transitioned from multifamily housing development to commercial development and decided that I did not like the development world. It was too political for me. So I got into construction, turns out everything’s political. The air we breathe is political, so I didn’t get away from it. I just jumped into a different pot. But what I did discover working in the commercial development world is that I really enjoyed working with entrepreneurs and small businesses and helping them to launch their first, you know brick and mortar space and helping them to actualize their vision. So when I transitioned out of asset management in the commercial development world, that’s when I launched Raven in 2015.
Heather Weerheim (02:16):
That’s awesome. Can you remember your first project? Who that was with?
Nancy St. Germaine (02:19):
Oh my gosh. I was transitioning with Seward Redesign and I did a couple big projects for them locally, Sober Fish, Steady Tattoo, Bee’s Knees, some sweet little projects locally. After that I worked with CAPI USA, a nonprofit food bank that works with immigrant communities and helping them to find resources and work and, you know, all of those things. Pillsbury United, Brian Coyle center.
Heather Weerheim (02:54):
And these are all, you live in south Minneapolis?
Nancy St. Germaine (02:56):
Heather Weerheim (02:56):
Right. In which neighborhood?
Nancy St. Germaine (02:58):
Heather Weerheim (02:59):
Bryant neighborhood. And were these, all these projects within that community?
Nancy St. Germaine (03:01):
Very much. Yep. Most of them are in south Minneapolis, one in Brooklyn park as they expanded. So I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work in my community and work in the nonprofit sector and the private sector.
Heather Weerheim (03:13):
And that says a lot too, because you’re going to see your community all the time. So then, you know, you’re kind of on the spot like then do they go to you and say, Hey, we have a plumbing problem. Like Nancy coming on up.
Nancy St. Germaine (03:24):
Yes, “We have a leak, we have a roofing leak. What do we do?” “We have a plumbing problem”. And so a lot of times we’ll run out there and we’ll fix it, you know, because now they’re friends, you know? And we’re very family oriented with our clients. That’s just kind of how that goes, you know, you’re with somebody for so long and just help them connect.
Heather Weerheim (03:45):
You have to do it. We mentioned, we talked that Raven started in 2015 and sorry, we might not have said that when we were talking about the podcast, but when we were talking earlier, but Raven began in 2015. And at that point you were scrappy, like you were doing what you could to, would you say like survive, like to make ends meet?
Nancy St. Germaine (04:02):
Absolutely. I mean, I was making it up as I went along, you know, I was learning how to own and run a construction company. You know, I didn’t have experience really running a construction company. I came from the development world. What I found is that there were a lot of contractors that didn’t do a great job that weren’t honorable. And I was like, well, I can do it at least that well, you know, and ideally better. So I just had to learn the industry. So I’ve learned, you know, the insurance and the bidding and every last part of it, the estimating process.
Heather Weerheim (04:37):
You said self-taught
Nancy St. Germaine (04:38):
Heather Weerheim (04:39):
You figured that out. Yeah. And then was it important to you, or tell me this, do you have the women owned business designation or small business?
Nancy St. Germaine (04:46):
I do, yep. I have the DBE, the TGB, the MBE and the WBE.
Heather Weerheim (04:51):
That’s a mouth full. Yeah. Was that a difficult process?
Nancy St. Germaine (04:56):
Oh, it’s incredibly trying. Yeah. It’s a lot of energy, especially when you’re starting out. If you haven’t done it already or done it before and you don’t have someone to guide you, it takes a lot of time to figure it out, you know, to come up with the paperwork to get all the financial documents together and to really prove that you actually have the skills and capacity to do it. When I first applied for my DBE, I was denied as a general contractor. And so I had to really fight and prove that I did have the actual skills, you know, that I could frame and hang and finish tape and trim and tile and do all this stuff that I had been doing for 15 years already. I had to show that I actually had, you know, a garage full of tools.
Heather Weerheim (05:39):
That’s why you had to show, I thought they were gonna make you like hang sheet, rock or something.
Nancy St. Germaine (05:42):
I thought they might, but I had to really raise a fuss and fight really aggressively.
Heather Weerheim (05:48):
And did you feel like you needed those certifications to start your business?
Nancy St. Germaine (05:52):
It was my understanding that I needed them. I haven’t actually ever used them.
Heather Weerheim (05:58):
Okay. I’ve heard that before so I’m curious.
Nancy St. Germaine (05:59):
Which is kind of frustrating, but I maintain them, you know, once you get them, it’s easier to maintain them than it is to let them go. Changing your designations with your skills is different. So as you grow, it’s, you know, you have to provide proof that certification that you know how to trim. Well, there’s no such thing. So how do you get it? So it’s a challenge. There’s a lot of, you know, hurdles along the way, but you push on.
Heather Weerheim (06:25):
And what do you mean? Like you haven’t used them? So, you haven’t been – any of the work that you’ve done those certifications haven’t been necessary. That’s what you’re getting at. Yeah. Okay. But it’s still, you feel it’s important to maintain and keep them.
Nancy St. Germaine (06:37):
I think it is, you know, in large part, just because it puts you on a list with the cert and different entities know that you exist. You do get solicited by a number of larger contractors to act as a sub. We don’t sub anything at this time but we’re considering it as we grow.
Heather Weerheim (06:55):
You still, you don’t sub anything?
Nancy St. Germaine (06:56):
We don’t sub anything.
Heather Weerheim (06:58):
Do you sleep at night?
Nancy St. Germaine (07:00):
No, no I don’t. I basically work from three in the morning until nine o’clock at night when I can’t stand up anymore.
Heather Weerheim (07:07):
When you were in the office, not too long ago, Spencer was like, did you see that her work boots were worn out at the toe? Do you know what that means, Heather? And I was like, no, cause I don’t know how to do the work. He goes, that means that she is tiling herself. She is sheetrocking herself, she’s on her hands and knees doing the work. And I’m like, I get that. Like, do you want me to help her? Like what?
Nancy St. Germaine (07:31):
I need a nap, just give a blankie.
Heather Weerheim (07:33):
I can sheetrock. I can do that. And I can back butter tile. So I can help you there. Okay. So, then I guess explain to me where is Raven at now, then from 2015, where are you at now and why are you still working and why don’t you sub that out? It’s kind of a loaded question.
Nancy St. Germaine (07:51):
So many things let’s see here, Raven. So Raven has grown from me and two other staff to a staff of 10. Since the events of George Floyd we’ve grown from being a, you know, three quarter of a million dollar company to, you know, a two plus yeah. You know verging on 5 million, depending on if contracts come through. So we’re being offered significantly larger contracts. And so we’re being forced to grow significantly faster. I really enjoy working in the field. I enjoy training staff. I enjoy growing my team. And I take a lot of pride in self performing what we do. And frankly, I’m kind of a control freak, so I like to control the schedule. And if I have staff, then I can control the schedule, you know, and be less dependent on subs.
Heather Weerheim (08:51):
Understood. But at some point, like, as you grow, yeah, I mean, it’s gonna get more and more difficult for you to be everywhere.
Nancy St. Germaine (08:59):
That’s a huge part of, you know the Greiner mentorship relationship is that you showed up just in time for me, because I was at a point where I was like, I don’t know what to do next. I’m at a loss.
Heather Weerheim (09:14):
You did a $2 million contract, right?
Nancy St. Germaine (09:15):
Yeah. Yep. I was bidding $5 million that was offered in a one week time span. So that was a huge amount of work to bid in one time, you know, at one time. And so, and I was at a point where I don’t know what to do next. Who do I hire next? Do I hire an estimator, a project manager, you know, a, you know, a field Supt.? Like, what do I do next? You know, but I needed someone to help guide me and to bounce ideas off of, to get some feedback, just to help me process these larger contracts, just the legal part, the estimates. So it was a lot to manage a lot of growth to, you know, process.
Heather Weerheim (09:51):
Yeah. And Greiner’s learning too, a lot from you. It’s been really fun to see, just us progress and that relationship and still kind of figuring out what it looks like and how we can help each other. And I think the biggest surprise from us that we learn from you and it really helped evolve how we’ve been bidding to our MBE, WBE or our, you know, all of our subs that have that certification is that you guys are bombarded with – you could have all the work in the world right now. And like we said, we contribute that a lot to George Floyd, George Floyd’s murder. And it’s great. It’s about time, right? That this is happening or that this change is happening, but the thing is how do you staff it? How do you respond?
Heather Weerheim (10:37):
Right. I think I read an article that Kat brought me about federal government work and that it costs money. I think people forget it costs money to put a bid together. Yeah. And you’re on these lists. You can do the work that the government wants to spend their money on women owned business, but to bid all those jobs would take again, you’re not sleeping already because you’re doing the work. So yeah. How are you gonna do it all? So what is your biggest need right now? Like what, what do you need to be successful?
Nancy St. Germaine (11:06):
You know, I think one of the biggest hurdles for small businesses and small contractors in general is capacity. Most of us are self taught, you know, or we come from working in the field and we’ve had some success or we’re aging out of being able to work in the field. And so we’re trying to grow that and we’re looking at the next generation, you know, what are the challenges that we’ve experienced? What are they experiencing and how do we help resolve some of those issues specifically, you know, with women and people in the minority community how do we empower one another? And so it’s, how do we help grow each other’s skills around bookkeeping and estimating and reviewing contracts and protecting ourselves, insurance, benefits? It’s having working capital. Banks have had a hard time being able to provide working capital for small, you know, businesses, entrepreneurs, contractors, specifically. There’s a few nonprofits that can help with that, but the interest rates are high. So it makes it untenable for us to be able to grow into those contracts.
Heather Weerheim (12:18):
Yeah. With big contracts comes liability, right? Yeah. It can be really scary.
Nancy St. Germaine (12:23):
Getting bonded at, you know, $3 million from, you know, not needing a bond ever. It takes time, it takes history. Yeah. A working relationship.
Heather Weerheim (12:33):
Do you have a, this is, we don’t have to keep this on record, but like, this is just more of a question right now. Do you have a relationship like with a banking institution that you just use all the time that you’ve had to develop over the
Nancy St. Germaine (12:44):
Years? I have a banking relationship with two different banks. One is Sunrise banks. They do a lot of work with small businesses that sort their niche. And then also US Bank has been really aggressive with being able to support the growth of my companies. You know, I’ve been able to branch out and you know,
Heather Weerheim (13:04):
Now time out, you said companies.
Nancy St. Germaine (13:05):
Heather Weerheim (13:06):
Nancy St. Germaine (13:07):
So I own Raven construction. I also own Raven Property Management. I own Jack’s Hardware and farm supply in south Minneapolis. That’s the other half of our passion that my husband and I own to support, you know self sustainability and what’s the word food, access to food. Justice and helping to support – they’re trying to, you know, live by example and lead by example. So that’s amazing. My different, the entities that I own are ultimately about supporting community, you know, so yes, the goal is to make money and have stability and, you know, create some wealth, but it’s also to create wealth for other people, all of my staff, you know, to create opportunities and to demonstrate that there’s alternatives, you know, to some of the challenges that our youth experience.
Heather Weerheim (14:10):
How amazing, why are you so passionate about this? What did, I mean like, cause now I’m now as I described you being a badass in the field, and then now hearing like your philanthropic efforts, I’m feeling really inadequate over here.
Nancy St. Germaine (14:26):
I’m a workaholic.
Heather Weerheim (14:28):
I know. And you found a partner that, a spouse that keeps up with this energy and has this passion.
Nancy St. Germaine (14:34):
He’s kind of the rock. And then I’m just kind of the one that spins, you know, I’m I’m bees and they just come back to him, you know, so he supports me and lets me be a wild beast in the field, you know?
Heather Weerheim (14:47):
I love, sorry. That’s really beautiful.
Nancy St. Germaine (14:50):
I’m very fortunate. Yeah. he’s very patient with me. But what was your question though about, oh, where well, I was raised by a single mom, you know I’m Native American, you know, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe. And there’s a lot of challenges in that community around alcoholism and diabetes and a number of other issues and, you know, violence and you know, things of that nature. And so rather than succumb to some of those things, you know, we work hard in our family. That was our response to those challenges. And rather than succumbing to alcoholism, we just stay busy and that’s how we manage it in our family workaholics work. Yeah. Workaholism. Yeah. But also, you know, I want to make sure that I’m supporting an alternative in the native community. So we work with a few different, you know, nonprofit, Native CDC’s.
Heather Weerheim (15:52):
Then, do you mentor them? Like, are you open to mentorship and do you have time to do that?
Nancy St. Germaine (15:58):
We do, you know, I work with a number of small small business owners that are branching out their first time. So, you know, a lot of weekends folks will come to the house and we’ll help them start businesses on secretary of state and get their tax ID numbers and go through their next steps of getting their different certifications and you know, how to use QuickBooks. So we’re all just trying to help each other all the time, but then I have those same mentors that help me. Right. So I can lean on, you know, Tribe construction and KMS construction and be like, okay, you know, big brothers, tell me what’s next for me? What should I do next? You know? And so really it’s just about supporting one another.
Heather Weerheim (16:39):
What do you see for the future of small businesses?
Nancy St. Germaine (16:44):
It’s hard to say, you know, but I think there’s a hope and a desire and a mission. I know that, with the association of minority contractors, we’re really driven to be reaching out to the larger contractors to help support us in our growth, you know, in the same way that we’ve been able to get that support independently. But now as an organization to be thinking sort of at a larger, more global scale but here locally,
Heather Weerheim (17:15):
How can, I mean, we have our partnership and it’s working really well for mentorship. How else can large corporations help smaller businesses you think?
Nancy St. Germaine (17:24):
I think they’ve got to get out of their comfort zone. Yeah. They need to look farther, look deeper, at what’s available, who’s out there. After the uprising with George Floyd, I was working with Lake Street Council and working with a number of large contractors and small businesses. And the one thing that I heard on the regular was that we didn’t know there were so many minority contractors out there, so many that we’ve never met that have so much capacity. So I’ve been honored to help to get everybody connected and networked and, and hopefully grow those pools of contractors. But with that, you know, as a lot of, you know, hope and direction to those larger contractors, like help them to get their contracts, you know, that’s mutually beneficial, help them to bid it, help them to be informed, you know.
Heather Weerheim (18:17):
It was a huge eye opener. I mean, we would just, we would have a project that would have some certification requirements and we would send out our email, a bid invite and we’re like, okay, we highlight the subs in our bid list that meet all those requirements. And we just send out this blast and hope that they, and just assume, well, they’ll respond. They need the work. And it’s like, no, well, they don’t because they have plenty of work going on. We haven’t done anything to build a relationship with those subcontractors. We’re only bidding to them when it’s in those requirements, we didn’t realize it was a get outta your comfort zone. Yeah. Have an aha moment. How is the rebuilding of lake street going?
Nancy St. Germaine (18:56):
You know, I think it’s gonna be a, it’s still a long process. There’s a number of challenges with the immigrant community, having proper insurance, having enough access to capital, COVID was not helpful. You know, there was a loss of business income to be able to refinance, you know, the build of a new structure, but a lot of CDCs are stepping up to help support, you know, legally, you know, everybody’s really stepping up and it’s been, I think, a fair amount of success. But with some long term challenges that I think are gonna be hard conversations for a long time. Yeah.
Heather Weerheim (19:42):
It’s not going to happen overnight.
Nancy St. Germaine (19:42):
It’s not gonna happen overnight. I think really staying focused on local ownership so that larger developers don’t come in and buy up those spots. And, you know we lose, I guess the soul of lake street, we wanna make sure that we continue to protect, what we have and what really made lake street special in so many parts of our community that were affected by that.
Heather Weerheim (20:03):
I hope that happens. It has to, it will. Well, if people like you are out there helping. Let us know how we can help too.
Nancy St. Germaine (20:12):
We’ll all do our part. Yeah.
Heather Weerheim (20:12):
Yeah. Just a few questions for you about currently what you’re working on at Raven. So what are some of the core areas of construction that you are working on? What areas like what markets do you work well in?
Nancy St. Germaine (20:25):
I really enjoy the nonprofit CDC. I work with a couple of different food shelves and urban farms locally. We are currently bidding an 8,000 square foot aquaponic farm. That’ll be in the Phillips neighborhood. Okay. A rooftop greenhouse in the Seward neighborhood. And then we have a brewery in St. Paul and a distillery in north Minneapolis or Northeast Minneapolis that we’re looking at. So we have a pretty vast catalog of projects. We like to work on.
Heather Weerheim (21:04):
Hydroponic farm to distillery, to tattoo parlor
Nancy St. Germaine (21:08):
Yeah. To office remodel in between.
Heather Weerheim (21:10):
I love it. Yeah. And then I wanna know what makes your organization different from other construction companies?
Nancy St. Germaine (21:18):
You know, I think one thing that we do differently, and this is just what’s been shared with me is a lot of my clients are women in power, right? They’re executive directors, frequently women of color. And so they’re looking to have someone that is on their side, not necessarily someone that is talking down to them, talking above their head, but someone that can work side by side, educate, and be respectful. And that for me is a huge gold star for us.
Heather Weerheim (21:54):
I think that women do so well in the construction industry and specifically like project management, because we can help kind of speak that language or help them understand a little bit to soften it a little bit.
Nancy St. Germaine (22:06):
Heather Weerheim (22:08):
That’s a good way to put it so I can totally get on board with that. And I think more women should be in the construction industry. You guys reach out to yeah. Nancy or I.
Nancy St. Germaine (22:17):
I would say we also have an apprenticeship program that we’ve launched so that we can help to train more folks in the construction field.
Heather Weerheim (22:26):
That Raven has? Is that now, that’s outside of the union, because you are outside the union. So, your own. And how do you put it out there that you have that apprenticeship program?
Nancy St. Germaine (22:37):
We get contacted pretty regularly for opportunities for employment. Folks want to support the values and missions of Raven. They want to work with the types of clients that we work with. They want to support the work that we do and the way that we do it. And so it just became sort of crucial that we had an apprenticeship program so that we can further support the growth of those employees.
Heather Weerheim (23:05):
I love that. And then how does your organization meet or exceed client expectations? I think you kind of answered that a little bit with your listening and the, just being a better listener.
Nancy St. Germaine (23:17):
Get the job done, keep it on budget, get it done on time, be friends at the end. Yeah.
Heather Weerheim (23:21):
I mean, and you have to do when you’re working with the people in your neighborhood and like we discuss before. So I think that’s, we believe in long lasting relationships with our clients and it’s crucial. Yeah. Our next podcast, we’re gonna talk a little bit about preconstruction and just how that sets up a project for success and just everyone’s on the same page. The project runs smoother. Do you work in that capacity? Like preconstruction where you’ll be a partner right away with the project?
Nancy St. Germaine (23:50):
Absolutely. Yeah. Yep. I think it’s important to have the general contractor involved from the beginning, including at the design process so that you can work through the kinks and point out potential challenges. You know, it’s, every step is a challenge and every part is, you know, it’s science and art. And so making sure that the two merge and, and line up is important,
Heather Weerheim (24:12):
Raven and Greiner want to make a difference, no matter the specific field. Whether it’s nonprofit healthcare or corporate office space, we want to collaborate and partner with organizations and corporations that want to make a difference too.
Nancy St. Germaine (24:25):
Heather Weerheim (24:26):
I mean, I think you sum that up and
Nancy St. Germaine (24:27):
Ultimately I think the beauty of the relationship between Raven and Greiner is that we share values. We share a goal to do better for our communities to be a part of the work that we do and the part of the communities we wanna represent. I think the shared values of our clients.
Heather Weerheim (24:47):
Agreed. We want to look like the community that we serve.
Nancy St. Germaine (24:49):
Exactly. Be of and for, not to. Yeah. You know,
Heather Weerheim (24:55):
That was it. Did we get that? Perfect. Well, thank you so much, Nancy, for letting me pick your brain.
Nancy St. Germaine (25:04):
Thanks for having me.
Heather Weerheim (25:04):
I think actually we do have one last question. Yeah. In practice, in my opinion, is an opportunity to always be better in yourself or doing better or to be learning and growing. What do you do to learn and grow and to be better?
Nancy St. Germaine (25:20):
I think the hardest part of just life and being a business owner and being human, just learning to listen, you know, and let your own assumptions and ego sit on the back burner and just allow other people’s stories and truths to be, to be just that. You know, and I think from that we can grow and be humbled and learn
Heather Weerheim (25:48):
Love. Let’s end on that. That was amazing. Thank you.