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RAF Contracting, Inc. - Woman-Owned Contractor Shatters Stereotypes

Amy Ellis, President, RAF Contracting, Inc. in Columbus, Miss.

RAF Contracting, Inc. - Woman-Owned Contractor Shatters Stereotypes

The contracting and construction industry is sometimes perceived to be a “good ol’ boy” business mostly dominated by men. But don’t tell that to Amy Ellis, the President of RAF Contracting, Inc. (RAFCO), which is located in Columbus, Miss.


Ellis started RAFCO in 1993 after working for 11 years as an accountant in the construction industry. “Women in the construction industry were kind of new back then and some of the other contractors didn’t take me too seriously at first,” she says. “But that changed pretty quickly, and now most people don’t blink an eye at a woman-owned construction firm.”


Being Financially Frugal


In the early years, RAFCO focused primarily on concrete form and finishing. “This did not require a lot of heavy equipment, so we were able to keep our costs down early on,” she says. 


With a degree in accounting, being frugal with finances was one of the keys to the company’s early success. We never had to have the latest and greatest equipment, tools or even computers,” says Ellis. “For example, the first big piece of equipment I bought was a used backhoe, which we retired just a few years ago.”


Living RAFCO’s Mission Statement


It is our goal to build relationships. We build these relationships by building quality projects for our customers, thus building a reputation of quality workmanship. We believe in honesty and integrity, giving each of our customers an outstanding project. We believe in teamwork. We have an excellent working relationship with our subcontractors by working together to achieve our goals.


Ellis invests a great deal in her people.  “I have great employees who work extremely hard,” she says. “They don’t work for me, they work with me. We all work together as a team toward the same goals. We are there for each other, both on and off the job. They are truly like family to me.”


RAFCO also works with a team of specialty subcontractors who Ellis has built strong relationships with over many years. “It is important to me that my subcontractors are successful. “They know what I expect and I know what they need to do their jobs,” she says. “It’s a great partnership.”


Woman- and Minority-Owned


RAFCO is both a woman-owned and minority-owned business (Ellis is Japanese-American) that works primarily with the Department of Defense. Recent contracts have been with the Department of the Air Force, Navy and Army Corp of Engineers.


“When working with the Department of Defense, it’s less about submitting the lowest proposal and more about submitting the best proposal,” says Ellis. “The federal government wants to know that contractors will do a quality job on time. Contracts are awarded not only on price but also prior performance evaluations. You are evaluated on every project through a federal website that is accessible to various agencies, so it’s critical to do a superior job every time.” 


Over the past decade, Ellis says the company has moved away from concrete form and finishing work to focus more on building remodeling and facility maintenance. Typically, they land a long-term (such as three to five years) contract with a government agency that includes many individual projects. Currently they have contracts with the Department of the Air Force and the Army National Guard.


“Since I’ve been working with these defense agencies for so long, both sides know what to expect from each other,” says Ellis. “It’s been a great teamwork arrangement for both the business and the agencies we serve.”


Not Retiring Yet


After 24 years, working in the construction industry, Ellis has completed $48 million in contracts, which includes more than 150 projects. She now enjoys the freedom to pick and choose the projects she wants to bid on. “I’m not quite ready to retire yet, but I am looking forward to doing a little more traveling and getting more involved in the community, both locally and abroad,” she says.


“God has been very good to me and I am expected to do His Work.” I had an opportunity several years ago to go a youth mission trip with my son and it was life changing.  Since then, I have been on construction teams to The Bahamas, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Once you start going on these trips, it really gets in your blood. You definitely get more out of the experience than you give.”  


Mutual Trust and Respect


Ellis started working with Cadence Bank when she first launched RAFCO, using Cadence to finance the very first backhoe she bought. All of the company’s day to day deposit accounts are currently with Cadence.


“I have a great relationship with Cadence Bank that’s based on complete mutual trust and respect, just like the relationships I have with my subcontractors and customers,” she says. “There has never been a reason for me to look for another bank.”


RAF Contracting is located at 402 Wilkins-Wise Road in Columbus, Miss.


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Read more helpful tips and advice for growing and managing your business at Cadence Bank’s Fresh Insights Portal.



This article is provided as a free service to you and is for general informational purposes only. Cadence Bank makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of the content in the article. The article is not intended to provide legal, accounting or tax advice and should not be relied upon for such purposes.

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