By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
Diane Lewis never imagined that her Morgantown-based company would see so much success.
On April 17, the U.S. Small Business Administration surprised Lewis, president and CEO of Action Facilities Management Inc., at her business office to announce that she had been named the 2013 West Virginia Small Business Person of the Year.
“Really it’s such a surprise,” she said. “I just feel so humbled by it.”
Lewis, who is originally from Clarksburg and now lives in Morgantown, said it’s an amazing feeling to win this award. To her, this honor confirms that her business provides good, quality services to clients and that her employees are doing a good job representing the company.
“I know the people that have won (the award) before me, and to think that you get to go up to that level, it just make me want to try harder,” she said.
Lewis formerly worked for a security company that focused on one type of service, and clients were always wishing that the business did work related to facilities management. So she thought of the concept of just providing total facility support services and decided to start her own company.
Seeing the business sense and entrepreneurial spirit of her husband, Kenny Jackson, also played a part in driving her to establish her business.
Lewis formed Action Facilities Management in the basement of her home in 2001 as a sole proprietor, and incorporated the business in 2003. It is a site-support contractor, primarily for the federal government, and offers security guard, janitorial and building maintenance services.
“We really try to be a one-stop shop for the client,” Lewis said.
She remembers how in the early stages of her business, she knew that she had good services and products but had to do a lot of marketing to try to get somebody to give her an opportunity.
Initially it was just Lewis and her son, Donald Hill, operating the business in Morgantown. But today, Action Facilities Management has more than 300 employees and a presence in nine states.
Donald is now the chief operating officer and runs the company’s location in Washington, D.C. Lewis’ daughter, Stephanie Hill, is in charge of the human resources department at the headquarters in Morgantown.
Lewis thanked her family for their constant support.
“It’s not just me; it’s really the people behind my company that really make the difference every day, and that’s what gives us the ability to grow,” she said.
When she hears from her employees how Action Facilities Management has positively impacted their lives, she knows that her business is moving in the right direction. Lewis said her company has more than tripled her expectations.
As for the future, Action Facilities Management is looking at a company for a national opportunity to grow into some other states and to be a national provider of services for a commercial client. If the business does well with its services nationally, it could have the opportunity to expand internationally.
“We know we need to diversify some,” Lewis said. “We’re trying to make sure we have that right mix going forward and that our company can survive. It’s going to make me go out of the box a little more.”
In 2010, the SBA selected Lewis as the state’s Minority Small Business Champion. Lewis said the SBA has played a big role in helping her to get where she is today.
“I have to give a lot of the credit of my success to the Small Business Administration,” she said. “They really are very supportive. I would not be sitting here if it wasn’t for them.”
In September, Lewis graduated from the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which is a nine-year government contracting program that helps even the playing field for socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses by giving them the opportunity to do work with federal entities.
She encouraged new small businesses to contact the SBA to learn about the opportunities that could possibly grow their operations.
Judy McCauley, district director of the SBA’s West Virginia District Office in Clarksburg, commented on the impressive growth and sales that Lewis’ company has experienced over the past 10 years.
“She has contracts all over the nation,” McCauley said. “She does phenomenal work in her community and with her church. To see the company grow, to see what they’re doing for the community, those types of criteria are what (we) rate each one of those nomination packages on.”
West Virginia is the home of about 123,000 small businesses. The SBA works with small businesses to get them the assistance and resources that they need, McCauley said.
Many ideas have turned into start-up companies with the help of Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, SCORE chapters and other entities, she said.
“We have probably one of the best resource partner networks in the nation,” McCauley said.
She said small businesses should surround themselves with experienced people, and mentors can help them reach their goals. Also, networking is critical.
Lewis said Craig Hartzell, president of the Morgantown-based Azimuth Inc., and Brent Armstrong, who retired from the U.S. Department of Energy, have been instrumental in the growth of her company. In fact, Armstrong is the person who nominated her for the West Virginia Small Business Person of the Year award.
Lewis added that Sen. Jay Rockefeller and his office have been very supportive of her company and all small businesses in West Virginia, as well as the annual Teaming to Win Conference.
In January 2012, Lewis was Rockefeller’s guest at the U.S. Capitol for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
“The Small Business Person of the Year award is a tremendous honor, and I hope Diane is very proud of this well-deserved recognition,” Rockefeller said in a press release. “Diane is such a shining example of what it means to build a company from the ground up and see tremendous success, providing jobs and helping boost the local economy. Her company’s growth in the last 12 years proves that hard work and innovative thinking pay off in big ways. ... I have no doubt we will continue seeing Action Facilities Management thrive under her vision and leadership.”
Lewis is on the Teaming to Win board and has been involved in this organization for 20 years. The conference, scheduled for May 28 and 29 at the Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown, brings government agencies together with small businesses for opportunities to partner and is a great networking event.
“The Teaming to Win conference has really just made a difference as far as getting people to know each other,” she said. “I believe in it.”
Lewis will receive her award during the Small Business Week Awards dinner on May 29 that is part of the Teaming to Win Conference.
Email Jessica Borders at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.