By Sharon Moore Jackson
Bruce D. Mitchell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Columbia Enterprises, a general construction contracting firm, with offices in both the District of Columbia and Camp Springs, Maryland, has been at the company’s helm since its inception in 1993.
With over 20 years of professional experience in architectural design, construction management and general contracting, Bruce has strategically positioned Columbia Enterprises to identify and compete in areas that include government, healthcare, commercial, hospitality, and educational projects.
Before launching Columbia Enterprise, Bruce worked as a Project Designer for Haywood, Jordon & McCowan (HJM) Architects, an African American firm in Houston, Texas. It was in Houston where he met his best friend and wife Patricia, who has served as Chief Financial Officer since 2011.
After several years with HJM, Bruce was recruited by Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott Corporation in their Architecture and Construction Division. Five years later, he was recruited again by Beneco Enterprises, a federal construction management firm located at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Airforce Base in Washington, DC. Bruce affirms, “it was there at Beneco within that military environment where I broadened my construction experience and learned the federal contract procurement process in depth”.
To better understand the man and his vision, Bruce shared his foundation and how he arrived in the architectural and construction industry. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, the product of loving parents who demonstrated by their actions what hard work, commitment and sacrifice really looked like to both he and his sister Joan. Bruce attributes his father – a man with no formal education but focused, determined, an entrepreneur in his own right – for planting the seeds of excellence and the value of education and hard work in his children. Bruce reflects, “my dad always had a plan, and he worked his plan and he taught by example what being responsible looked like.” Working alongside his Dad on small home improvement projects as a teenager also prepared Bruce for where he is today. Bruce quickly admits that as he got older, he came to appreciate his dad even more for demonstrating what a commitment to excellence means and acknowledges his father as his first real mentor. Bruce’s mother, who soon will be celebrating her 90th birthday, he proudly shares, taught him valuable lessons of faith in action, hard work and perseverance.
Over the years, Bruce says, there have been many other role models in his life, “a lot of helping hands, that have been there for me and continue to show up in my life.” Two men who stand out and paved the way for Bruce and many others are Hayward Davis, Jr., Retired President of the East Coast Atlantic Construction Company, and a graduate of Howard University School of Architecture, and Retired Major Charles D. Williams, graduate of Tuskegee Institute National Science and Engineering, U.S. Corps of Engineers. “These trailblazers, through their accomplishments and encouragement, helped to develop me into the business person I am today.”
Bruce says Columbia Enterprises’ core is general construction where, “we’ve identified several business sectors that have helped us to really grow our company over the past 24+ years.” Two primary business sectors are the Federal Government and Healthcare. Bruce explained he recognized early on that the healthcare sector was growing very fast and, given the number of baby boomers coming of age, creating a strategy for business development in this sector made sense and was clearly an area that Columbia Enterprises needed to be in.
The company’s healthcare focus has paid off with clients like Kaiser Permanente, MedStar Health and soon, Johns Hopkins Health System. Bruce shared that “Columbia has been a Tier Contractor for Kaiser Permanente for several years and we are currently working on multiple medical centers for Kaiser in Prince George’s County, Maryland and Washington, D.C. We are very proud of what we have accomplished with them and they are a great customer.” Bruce also announced that Columbia Enterprises is now a strategic business partner with Clark Construction Group, LLC on the construction of the new state-of-the-art Prince George’s Regional Medical Center, in Prince George’s County, Md.
As a former SBA 8(a) firm, Columbia continues to provide construction services in the federal arena, through multi-year contracts with key federal agencies like General Services Administration (GSA), State Department, Department of Air Force and Department of Army, and on the local level, the District of Columbia’s Department of General Services (DGS), where Columbia also holds multiple term contracts.
During the early period of the company’s growth, Columbia served as general contractor for Earvin “Magic” Johnson branded Starbucks, which were then being developed throughout the DMV, including the first HBCU store located at Howard University.
As a Minority Business Enterprise, (MBE) Bruce indicates the MBE status has contributed significantly to advancing Columbia Enterprises and “we are proud to be a certified MBE by several agencies and prouder, as well, of the contributions we have made to ensure that minority representation in the construction industry is elevated and expanded, while building upon a solid foundation for the continued growth of our company”.
Columbia Enterprises currently hold certifications in the following categories:
• Small Business – U.S. Small Business Administration
• Local Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (LDBE) – Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA)
• Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) – Washington, DC
• Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) – Prince George’s County, MD
• Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) State of Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT)
A charter member of Delta-Delta Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Bruce believes that giving back to the community is essential. When Columbia Enterprises’ team members are not building and working on myriad construction projects, they are volunteering in the community. Organizations like Capitol Hill Ministries, Two Rivers Charter School, Arts & Technology Academy, Thurgood Marshall Charter School are just some of the non-profits that Columbia and its team-members have devoted their time and resources to, with members routinely volunteering time to participate in career day activities at local D.C. Public Schools. What’s next for Columbia in the educational arena, you ask? Establishing a mentorship program to bring minority students into the construction industry.
Columbia Enterprises’ work has not gone unnoticed. In 2016, the Capitol Region Minority Supplier Development Council (CRMSDC) recognized Columbia Enterprises as a finalist for 2016 Supplier of the Year Award. Columbia received an Outstanding Quality Services Award from Florida Avenue Baptist Church; and in 2009, Associated Builders and Contractors bestowed the Award of Excellence for performance on Addison Elementary School in the District of Columbia.
Bruce says he loves to build – starting from nothing and create something – and to exceed his customers’ expectations. “Every project is challenging but therein lies the motivation for us as a General Contractor. “Probably the greatest challenge for any business is finding the work, recruiting the right personnel, and developing long-term relationships with owners. This is an extremely competitive region and requires us to think outside the box to tap into new markets that have potential for long term growth”. Bruce believes it’s important to be committed to strategically planning the future and being purposeful in decision-making regarding the vision for the company.
“I believe any company is only as good as its people,” Bruce insists, “and the majority of our people have been with the company 10+ years, and that is what has really helped us to grow. They are the foundation of the company. After recruiting the right personnel, our number one goal, is to do our very best to create opportunities for them to excel. When you have great people, you can focus on all the other components that go into building a successful business.”