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MBDA Native American Business Enterprise Centers Help Rural Communities
American Steel Placers Assisted by MBDA California NABEC
As a second generation owner of a steel company, some might say that entrepreneurship flows through Russell E. Robertson’s blood. His company, American Steel Placers, Inc. is located in San Bernardino, CA and has contracts with city, county and state agencies to supply and place rebar (reinforcement steel) for concrete structures.
Created in 2004, American Steel Placers specializes in bridge construction, community public works and commercial buildings.
As a child, he watched his mother’s strength raising four children alone and managing the company she worked for in the male-dominated steel industry. By the time Robertson was 14 years old, his mother had bought out the stock to become majority owner at Puget Sound Steel after the owner died. She operated the company for 12 years in Seattle, where Robertson worked in the evenings after school for four years. He later moved to Los Angeles continuing in the steel business building bridges.
However, the entrepreneurial call became irresistible. Unlike many entrepreneurs who are motivated by the need to control their own destiny, leave a family legacy or simply make money, Robertson was motivated by the intense needs he saw in his community.
“Starting out, I made more money working than I did with my company,” Robertson said. “I was working for the largest steel company in the U.S. as a foreman. I was there for 25 years. Something pushed me to start the business.”
When he launched out on his own, he started with four employees and $100,000 in revenues. Today, seven years later, he has 30 employees and the firm generates between $5 to $10 million.
“I attribute the growth to really good people,” he said. “We run on very low overhead and we multi-task everyone.”
He also credits the MBDA Native American Business Enterprise Center (NABEC), for guiding and assisting him along the way.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for them,” Robertson said. “I found them by chance on the internet when I was looking for help. I’ve worked with the California MBDA NABEC since I started in 2004 with Curtis Feaster and they are still helping me.”
“The MBDA NABEC helped me with lending contacts with certain municipalities. They introduced me to the American Indian Chamber of Commerce, and introduced me at ‘meet and greets’ with certain agencies so I was able to make contacts and bid on work. Once they saw our work, the relationship developed from there.”
“I wouldn’t have had a chance to get my foot in the door without them.”
American Steel Placers now has a facility on four and a half acres with four overhead gantry cranes for lifting heavy metal for fabrication, and two automated reinforcing shear lines.
Robertson attributes his persistence and drive to his mother, who is a full-blood American Indian. “She would never let circumstances stop her. She had it rough.”
He has used his good fortune to help others by supporting orphanages in Burma, Southeast Asia, and Africa through his church. In addition, he supports his church’s mobile medical unit that does basic health checks, and its food bank which feeds 5,000 families a month in San Bernardino County – the largest food distribution in the county according to Robertson. He also supports a training program that helps people transition off welfare services.
“I thought if I had money I could help out more. That’s why I started the business.”
Just as important as it is to be a success in business, Robertson said he strives to be just as successful in life by living by the motto, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”