As 2021 ended, business owners were among those turning the calendar with aspirations for a prosperous 2022.
Things have been going quite well recently for Mount Nebo-based Eastern Group, LLC, and most of the tools are in place for a productive future.
According to Charlie Pritt, the firm’s vice president of engineering and a co-owner along with Chris Skaggs, Eastern Group is a core company. Under its umbrella are Eastern Electric, which does electrical construction; Eastern Management and Consulting Company, which performs project management, safety and contractor monitoring; and Eastern Technical Services, which performs engineering and automation.
A full-service electrical design and construction company, Eastern Group morphed out of Eastern Electric, which Pritt originally founded in the period after graduating from West Virginia Tech in Montgomery in 1995 with a four-year electrical engineering technology degree. The company, which is in it 22nd year, has 18 employees and offers its technical services “all over the U.S.,” Pritt says. The business started in Summersville before relocating to Mount Nebo. The majority of those on the employee roster reside in Fayette County.
“We work in a lot of the schools; we work in a lot of power plants,” he said. “We did a big project at Hawks Nest for Brookfield last summer. We just did a big upgrade for Summersville Hydro locally.
“My electrical foreman keeps guys busy locally most of the time. On the electrical construction side, it’s typically local work.”
The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t put a dent in Eastern’s business success, Pritt said, noting an estimated 40 percent increase of the financial bottom line.
“Believe it or not, we shut down for the first two weeks (of the pandemic), probably,” he said. “Everybody worked at home … and then our business just exploded. We’ve had two of the best years we’ve ever had since the pandemic started, which is a blessing.”
To keep up with the demand for its services, Eastern had hoped to hire six new employees in 2021, but that goal stalled after two new hires.
“Our biggest struggle is finding employees,” said Pritt, a Victor resident who has pursued extended educational opportunities over the years and is close to achieving his MBA. “We’re pretty technical, and we’ve found that finding technical talent locally is a struggle.
“A good, quality workforce is the big thing for us. We have the work, we have the contacts, unfortunately we’re having to turn down a lot of that. A lot of the work that we’re doing right now, Chris and I are getting yanked out to actually do that. If we can get people to replace us, we can actually develop the business a little more.”
“We’ve got an aggressive plan,” continued Pritt, who said the company is seeking 30 percent growth in the next five years. “Our problem is finding employees to do that. We can’t find engineering people, we can’t find safety people, we can’t find electricians.
“We’ve even called a bunch of the local colleges (to seek possible interns), but they say ‘we don’t have anybody to send.’ It’s a crying shame.”
And they need workers with experience, he stressed. “That’s not what we need (people with no previous experience); we need people that can step in and take off.”
In 2021, Eastern Group was recognized as a graduate of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders program.
“It’s a pretty intensive seven-month program that they put you through,” Pritt said. “That’s actually training” and “probably well over 100 hours of online instruction. Then they put us in cohorts, and we meet with each other every other week, and then we have class the opposite week.
“Since we were in business for 20 years, a lot of the stuff we already knew. But they brought a lot of stuff we didn’t realize. For example, there’s a lot of government funding and a lot of resources that we didn’t even know existed.”
“One of the things that we learned actually through the CEO mentoring cohort is that most small businesses in West Virginia all suffer from the same problems. … Most of those issues were all labor-related,” he said.
“A lot of the programs that the other CEOs have taken advantage of, I think we can really utilize some of those to help us out,” Pritt added. “For example, getting business funding to build new locations and advance certain programs, training.”
One of the components of the Emerging Leaders program was compiling a growth plan for the business. Looking ahead, Pritt said, “I took a pretty aggressive approach of 30 percent growth for the next five years. Of course, how do you get there? Right now, we have two projects that I’m working on; if we’re awarded those, that’s going to be about 200 percent growth next year.”
The 2021 Emerging Leaders initiative is geared toward executives of small businesses poised for growth in underserved markets, according to an SBA press release earlier this year.
It provides free entrepreneurship education and training for executives of small businesses that are potential job creators. Emerging Leaders provides participants the opportunity to work with a network of experienced coaches and mentors, attend specialized workshops, and develop connections with their peers, city leaders and the financial community.
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