Erika and Michael Gonzalez are business partners and life partners. They’ve been successful by figuring out ways their small company, Maer Construction, can squeeze a profit out of Florida’s competitive municipal construction world. Often, that means figuring out what to do with big piles of dirt.
-As told to Etelka Lehoczky
Michael: We’ve had differences if we both get involved in the same thing. She’s more organized, especially with tracking the money. I said, “I’m dealing more with operations, because this is the type of work I’ve done…You stay out of my stuff, I’ll stay out of your stuff.”
Erika: We basically realized in the beginning, in order to go home and be happy, we just do separate things during the day.
Michael: On one project we came up with the idea to recycle material. Jacksonville is a big port city, and they constantly have to dredge so the ships can come in. We used the dredged material to supply another Department of Transportation contractor. That was almost a $2 million contract.
Erika: It was sand. We got rid of all the sand for them and used it on a new job. Now they can re-dredge.
Michael: We essentially went to one state agency and talked to another state agency and got them to allow us to use the material. The state ended up saving $1 million. That kind of helped kickstart us in these last couple of years.
A lot of it is moving material around, finding places to move material to. When you’re building roads, that’s a big portion of the project. You have a big pile of dirt that has to go somewhere. [We] negotiate deals with landowners that might need excess dirt. That has allowed us to save money.
Erika: And stay competitive.
Michael: Another job in St. Augustine was a wetland creation project. We had about 12,000 cubic yards of material to get rid of. We found a guy who had a pond he wanted filled in. It was literally a mile and a half down the road.
Erika: He was closer to the job than anywhere else we could have dumped it. So we actually saved on trucking and got rid of the material for free.
Michael: I just started talking to one person in the area, and one person led to another. If you talk to the locals right around your area, they can generally help you.
Erika: Sometimes you just find one right person. They can help you save so much money on a project.