Making It

THEIR OWN BOSSES: Daniel and Angelica Gonzalez enjoy the challenges of entrepreneurship.
THEIR OWN BOSSES: Daniel and Angelica Gonzalez enjoy the challenges of entrepreneurship. (Copyright Keith Barraclough)
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By Vanessa M. Gezari
Sunday, August 31, 2008

IN FITTED BLUEJEANS and high-heeled sandals, Angelica Gonzalez doesn't look like your typical building contractor. But the mother of three from a small town near Guadalajara, Mexico, confounds expectations every day as owner of Evanston Drywall Specialties, the company she started with her husband, Daniel, in 2003.

"Sometimes when you're a woman in construction, you can feel a little underestimated," says Angelica, 40, of Aldie. "You walk into a meeting that's only men, and they're looking at you like maybe you don't know something. But I'm used to that."

Angelica and Daniel, 41, married as teenagers, shortly after the massive 1985 earthquake destroyed the region around their home town of Zapotlan el Grande. The quake turned their high school into a homeless shelter, cutting off avenues to higher education. When Angelica became pregnant, Daniel went to Chicago and found work in the construction industry. He returned to Mexico to collect Angelica and their infant son, Carlos. The family moved to Chicago in 1987 and, a year later, to Alexandria.

Daniel hung drywall for $11 an hour, moving from one employer to another. In 1990, he joined H&H Drywall Specialties in Chantilly, and he stayed with the company for more than a decade, rising to foreman. Angelica took an intensive English class and went to work as a legal assistant for a Washington immigration lawyer. She filled out forms, answered phones and prepared documents for the accountant -- skills she would later use at Evanston.

In early 2003, after Daniel grew frustrated by his low pay, the couple decided they would soon strike out on their own. They borrowed $30,000 against their house, and Daniel began lining up side jobs.

"We didn't consider something big; we just considered getting little jobs to keep us going," Angelica says. "But time kept passing by, and we were getting bigger offers. Instead of a $2,000 little job, we were getting a $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 job."

That summer, Angelica quit her job to run the business full time. They mortgaged their house again, this time borrowing $50,000, and Daniel left H&H. Later, the nonprofit Community Business Partnership in Springfield provided low-cost office space, computer training and a $10,000 loan.

Both U.S. citizens, Angelica and Daniel have built Evanston into a vibrant family business, with more than 30 employees and a client list that includes Verizon Wireless and the World Bank. Contractors praise their responsiveness. "Angelica in particular is very conscientious and takes it very personally if there is an issue or a problem," says Jeff Donohoe, director of estimating for Donohoe Construction Co. in the District. "In a very competitive market, you don't usually get that attention to detail."

Before they started the business, the couple had a combined annual income of about $50,000, Angelica says; now they are able to pay themselves more than twice that much. Profits have grown from $14,000 in 2004 to $48,000 last year. On a typical day, Daniel gets up at 4 a.m. and drives to job sites to supervise the work. His son, Carlos, now 21 and a foreman, also oversees job sites. "Every single day is a challenge, but it's very nice to be your own boss," Angelica says. "I love it."

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