As everyone knows, owning and running a business is full of challenges. But for minority-owned businesses those challenges are amplified. “It is hard for us to get a foot in the door when it comes to securing jobs in the area,” says William Burnett, owner of W.R. Burnett and Sons (609-743-5601), a South Brunswick-based business that offers paving and hauling services throughout the state. “When I started out it was very hard. It’s still a struggle out there. Certain jobs we are still excluded from. We are not even given the opportunity to bid on them.”
Burnett is one of the honorees at Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce’s (MTAACC) Empowerment Fund Dinner on Wednesday, October 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick. Cost: $150. The keynote speaker is Cory A. Booker, the mayor of Newark.
W.R. Burnett and Sons is being honored for its contribution to a recently completed site preparation job where it provided the paving and excavation for a $3 million project in conjunction with Grace Cathedral First Born Church. “MTAACC is an organization with many highly qualified members who are capable of doing excellent work in Mercer County and throughout the state,” says Burnett. “We are certainly very happy to be receiving such an honor.”
The MTAACC Empowerment Fund’s mission is to foster support of community and private sector relationships in order to better serve the interests and needs of women, African Americans, and other people of color. Other honorees at the dinner include James Kocsi, of the Small Business Administration New Jersey District Office, Linda Johnson and Roslyn Council, who will receive an education award for their work with breast cancer awareness, and Bishop Jerome S. Wilcox, Pastor of Grace Cathedral First Born Church.
Burnett’s company is a success story that from which many small owners can draw inspiration. Born and raised in South Brunswick, Burnett graduated from South Brunswick High School in 1973. He started his business almost by accident in 1987. “It all started out with my dad owning a couple of trucks that he used for hauling,” says Burnett. “I just started working with him. As time went on I began to take on more and more responsibility and then, after a while, I took things over.”
Now focusing primarily on asphalt paving as well as hauling services, Burnett initially limited his services to hauling. It was only after his sons grew old enough to work in the business that Burnett added paving to his company’s services. “We started paving things like driveways and sidewalks,” he says. “At first, all the paving work was done by hand, but as the business prospered and the jobs got bigger, we began buying more trucks and heavy equipment.”
His sons — Shawn, James, and Khataan — are still an integral part of the company. In fact, W.R. Burnet and Sons is pretty much a family affair. “I guess you could say that the company is family owned and operated,” says Burnett. “I have brothers who run the trucking part of the company, my sons do the paving, and my father does the maintenance work on the vehicles. My wife, Anita, does all the clerical work.” In addition to the seven family members, Burnett has 10 non-family employees.
While many dream of quitting their work-a-day job and starting their own business, Burnett is a testament to the fact that the reality usually means more work rather than less. On an average week, he puts in 60 to 80 hours. “The thing about running your own business is that when you get done you, really aren’t done,” says Burnett. “It’s not like you can punch a clock at the end of the day. A lot of times my weekends don’t belong to me. I go out a lot trying to get more jobs, doing estimates, and things like that.”
On the other hand, Burnett says that owning his business brings rewards that would be impossible to get in a traditional nine-to-five day working for someone else. “If you are in it just for the money, it just takes too much of your time,” he says. “I’m lucky to have so many of my family members involved, because that allows me to share the responsibility a bit and that takes some of the stress for me.”
Burnett says is grateful for the opportunities that MTAACC provides for minority-owned businesses. He says that it is important for small businesses to build on past successes. “I’m finding it a little easier now because most of the people I work with already know me. That’s because I’ve either done work for them in the past or because I get references from other clients. I have no complaints. I’m satisfied with the decision I made years ago to do this.”