Englewood Community Development Corporation is steadily making the Near Eastside and the Washington Street corridor a great place to live, work, and play. They were recently awarded a grant from the Office of Community Service (OCS) for the build-out of two businesses – TWG and Jefferson Electric. Jefferson Electric will be using their portion of the grant to continue renovating the east end of the Neidhammer building, as well as hire and train several low-income residents. CEO Joel Walsman recently sat down with the IndyEast Promise Zone to talk about his business, the Eastside, and priorities in life and work.
Joel is a young family man, driven with purpose, and successfully growing his business. He has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that he puts to use to better his family, his company, and his community. His business journey began when he was 19 years old as an apprentice for his father-in- law’s electrical company. Joel took over in 2009 and phased the company into Jefferson Electric LLC in 2011. On describing Jefferson Electric today, Joel says, “We are a small scale, full service solar energy contractor. We sell, design, install, and maintain solar arrays, residential and commercial. We also do residential and commercial electrical work, and that was our segue into solar energy.” Joel lives, works, and worships on the Near Eastside. He’s been a member of Neighborhood Fellowship for 15 years and has lived in the area for 11 years. Jefferson Electric gets its name from – drumroll – Jefferson Ave.
“Englewood CDC would be our single greatest source of jobs and lead referrals to date. Multiple churches have passed our name around. Our business has grown almost exclusively at the blessing of those natural supporters and promoters. We now employ 30 people. Fifteen of our team members live on the Near Eastside.”
Englewood has provided support for Jefferson Electric over the past several years, and in return, Jefferson Electric is able to employ more people in the neighborhood in well-paying careers. This type of collaborative work aimed at inclusive growth is an overarching theme that organizations like Englewood and the IndyEast Promise Zone work to facilitate.
The OCS grant calls for twelve new employees, nine of whom must qualify as low-income. Joel says that so far, they have been able to bring on six new employees. They have also started the process of opening up the space next door to them in the Neidhammer Building, which will almost double the size of their office and warehouse space.
The Englewood connection goes even deeper than the OCS grant Joel says, “[Our segue into solar energy was] another Englewood connection. They acquired grant funding for forty hours of introductory solar education. Five of our team members sat in on that training and that launched us into solar energy at the end of 2012. Again, Englewood.”
Taking team members out of the field speaks to the risk that small businesses have to take just to have a chance at a growth opportunity. Looking at the progress Jefferson Electric has made six years on from that 2012 class reinforces a key point about small business ownership that Joel mentioned multiple times:
“That’s the most significant thing is just those small daily opportunities. Almost without exception, all of the biggest wins have come from the most insignificant moments. You just can’t see it coming. Truly some of the best opportunities, they come quietly, they grow subtly and they flourish into a great flowering tree… You can’t underestimate some long-term plays. Small beginnings. We were totally in the dark as to where that class might lead to, and it turned into something very big for us.”
From small beginnings to an increasingly important player in the field of solar energy, Joel has large ambitions for Jefferson Electric. He wants to be the premier residential and commercial solar contractor for the greater Central Indiana region. With the right mindset and community support, Jefferson Electric can be that major player.
Jefferson Electric has seen remarkable growth in the past five years, but it did not come without challenges. Managing and growing a small business can be chaotic, and Joel put that chaos on a cosmic scale –
“Managing the multitude of orbiting satellites, given any change, you disrupt the whole interplanetary balance. And keeping people informed about the changes and how we process them and how they now function within those changes and how it affects our customers understanding the full ramification and making accommodations and considerations for all of that – even when you only have 30 people, it’s hectically challenging.”
However, Joel succeeds day after day, year after year, by making sure his life centers first on his faith and his family. He has purpose in life and a perspective that allows him to roll with the punches and focus on the positive. “Pushing across one finish line after another, they all mean something, and they not only affect the business, but the community and my guys. That’s a huge part of what motivates me to the next one and the next one – not getting frustrated or discouraged in the face of what I haven’t accomplished, but looking at the importance of what I have.”
Success to Joel means putting others above himself. He takes care of his family and his customers and by doing so, he knows he is going to, “reap the greatest benefit. I’m going to have people who are committed to me, I’m going to have encouragers, supporters, fans, everything that I need to live a joyful life by putting everybody else in front of myself and making sure that I view business as an act of service.”
Joe Bowling, Director of the East Washington St Partnership for Englewood Community Development, described his organization’s relationship with Jefferson Electric:
“Englewood CDC is incredibly appreciative to the myriad of ways Jefferson Electric has demonstrated a commitment to the Near Eastside and Near Eastside residents over the last several years. It’s gratifying to watch a business like Jefferson Electric grow and make the most of every opportunity. What’s more, they’ve done it with integrity and professionalism every step of the way. The OCS investment is the culmination of years of capacity building and trust. We’re confident that they’ll be successful, while simultaneously assisting residents in their own professional success.
For Englewood, we have prioritized sustainability in every aspect of our work. Assisting a home grown solar installation company with a commitment to hiring neighborhood residents is deeply gratifying.”
If you are not lucky enough to live in Englewood, you can visit www.asburyelectric.com to find the most highly recommended electrician in Williamsburg and other local areas in Virginia.
Joel is the type of business owner that is helping Englewood Village and the Promise Zone thrive. His focus on success through putting others first allows for growth and collaboration. The IndyEast Promise Zone is excited to continue watching the journey of Jefferson Electric.