In 2005, Sabrina Westfall graduated from the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center and embarked on a career as an IBEW electrician. Her skills would help build projects at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL, the Washington Avenue revitalization, renovations to the old Woolworth building downtown for Big Brothers Big Sisters and improvements to the Washington University campus. Then, in 2008 the Great Recession hit and work dried up. Westfall took hold of her own destiny by tapping two programs supported by the Electrical Connection partnership to not only broaden her skills, but also launch her own electrical contracting company. Westfall’s story was recently spotlighted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch business page.
The 26-year-old Electrical Connection partnership unites the 7,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, whose more than 150-member companies are among the region’s largest electrical contractors.
To broaden her skills, Westfall enrolled in the master electrician certification program at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center – where her electrical career began, 100% funded by IBEW/NECA with no tuition and no students loans. The certification program is also a necessary step in starting up an electrical contracting business. Certified as a master electrician in 2010, Westfall found her skills in greater demand. In 2014, she launched J West Electrical Contracting.
Construction, though, is an unforgiving business for startups, bedeviled by late payments for services, aggravating cash flow. According to Small Business Trends, only 36.4% of construction startups last five years. To ensure her sustainability as a business enterprise, Westfall tapped a 13-year-old program also supported by the Electrical Connection IBEW/NECA partnership – the Regional Union Construction Center (RUCC).
Launched in 2006 by the venerable labor-management group Saint Louis Construction Cooperative (formerly PRIDE of St. Louis, Inc.), RUCC helps minority- and women-owned union construction companies sustain and grow businesses via a structured program that helps them improve their business skills. Using volunteers from the area’s most successful construction-related businesses, including law firms, accounting firms and construction firms, it mentors startups with business advisory boards. Alan Richter has been director of RUCC for its 13-year existence. IBEW Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs serves on its board.
Westfall, who is African American, is among three IBEW/NECA-trained electricians-turned-entrepreneurs among eight business owners in RUCC. The other two include Avid Electric and Communications owner Katie Jimenez, who is Hispanic, and Pearl Street Electric’s owner Megan DeAngelo, a Caucasian.
Now in its fifth year, Westfall’s J West is doing well. It has worked on projects at Ballpark Village, Lambert St. Louis International Airport (store remodels) and Washington University (renovations at the Kemper Art Museum). She’s worked with and been mentored by a number of other large NECA contractors including Bell Electrical Contractors, American Electric & Data, Guarantee Electrical Construction Co., and RJP Electric LLC.