Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Verdigree Collective - Ithaca, NY

Verdigree Collective - Ithaca, NY

Julie Kitson is no stranger to building walls – or breaking them down. Through her business Verdigree Collective, one of the only female-owned and operated commercial construction companies in Ithaca, NY, Julie is committed to diversifying the construction industry by opening new doors for women and minorities in the trades.

Here’s a look at how Julie, an award-winning contactor, made a name for herself in the construction field.

Finding her passion and taking the leap

Growing up in Philadelphia, Julie developed a love for old buildings from an early age. This passion, as well as her desire to do hands-on work, led her to construction. Julie started as a laborer on a job site and quickly worked her way through various crews by learning different parts of the construction trade.

“For the first 10 years of my career, I worked hard on honing my skills,” she explains. “I trained in woodshop, trim, framing, etc. I was passionate about moving up in the trades, so I worked hard to develop well-rounded skills.”

Committing to outstanding experiences

In 2009, after nearly a decade in residential construction, Julie was hired as a carpenter and estimator for the restoration of the historic Argos Inn in Ithaca. Knowing that Argos could be her ticket into the commercial world, Julie switched gears and began working as a crew member for the project before eventually taking over as the construction manager.

“Argos was a huge turning point for me,” says Julie. “I took over for the last year and a half of the project, and in many ways, it was a trial by fire. Not because it was chaotic but because I was still new to commercial construction and management, and faced many barriers related to being a woman.”

Julie persevered and in 2017, her tenacity and hard work paid off when the Argos Inn won the Preservation League of New York’s prestigious award for excellence in historic preservation.

Reflecting on her success with this project, Julie says, “I was the first female on a construction team to win the Excellence award. I am proud of this achievement and I am proud of this project. Argos gave me the momentum to break into commercial construction, which is often incredibly hard to accomplish.”

Building on successes and struggles

After Argos wrapped up in 2014, Julie worked in commercial construction management for several years before eventually launching Verdigree Collective. Today, her business proudly employs and trains women and minority crew members interested in the trades.

 “In my experience, it’s hard as a woman to break into the industry and feel respected. And I assume it’s a similar experience for minorities,” Julie explains. “I definitely think that we have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves and our abilities, which is why I’m committed to creating more representation for women and minorities in the trades and making my business a safe haven for them.”

In recent years, Julie has noticed more women and minorities entering the industry, but there’s still room for those in management positions to prioritize diversity and take active steps to make the trades more inclusive. For those just entering the field, Julie stresses the importance of “sticking with your passion” and viewing “your diverse perspective as one of your greatest strengths."

And for New York-based minority and women-owned businesses in the industry, Julie recommends looking into New York State’s Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Certification Program (MWBE). 

“Women and minorities are historically underrepresented in the trades, and as a result often struggle to advance or grow their businesses or careers. The MWBE certification helps bridge this gap by granting a number of state contracts to certified minority and women-owned businesses,” Julie explains. “I am actually in the process of getting my business MWBE certified, which has the potential to open up a stream of opportunities for me in the future.”

Taking advantage of resources that fuel success

While preparing for her certification, Julie attended a financing workshop at an MWBE conference in Brooklyn. There she was referred to EGF Assistant Vice President Carol O’Connell, who spoke with her about EGF’s different financing options for MWBEs and encouraged her to apply.

As a result, Julie secured $50,000 in working capital through EGF’s Minority and Women Revolving Loan Trust Fund (MWRLTF), which provides up to $50,000 in affordable financing to minority and women-owned businesses in several regions across New York State. 

With her loan, Julie plans to improve business operations, prioritize employee development and ramp-up her marketing strategy, so that her business is thoroughly prepared for the increased opportunities that will come with the MWBE certification.

When asked about her experience with EGF, Julie states, “Working with EGF was a great experience! Carol has been an incredible resource and has opened so many new doors for me.”

She continues, “The loan process was very smooth and easy. I applied quickly and I found out that I was approved in a matter of days. I couldn’t even believe it!”

Celebrating her achievements

Considering all her successes, what is Julie most proud of?

“Argos is my proudest work achievement,” she says. “But beyond Argos, I am extremely proud of the work I’ve done in Puerto Rico. Last year, I traveled there with a group of Ithaca-based women. Together, we helped train Puerto Rican women on different trade skills, so that they could rebuild from Hurricane Maria and learn how to better prepare their houses for future hurricanes. This was truly a phenomenal and incredibly meaningful experience.”

We’re thrilled to help Verdigree Collective and excited to see how Julie continues to help diversify the trades.