At New Avenue, we’re excited to have our first female general contractor (GC) on board. (In an era where equality should be the norm but isn’t, we hope to see many more women join the team soon.)
We’re pleased to introduce Angela, one of our amazing GCs in Portland, OR.
She’s a strong believer in putting theory and practice together, and she brings tons of unique experience to the table. We’re so proud to have her as part of the New Avenue team.
We sat down with Angela to find out about her incredible experience in design and building, hear her thoughts on being a minority in construction, and get her top advice for contractors and homeowners.
On starting out in design and construction
Angela first became interested in design and construction as a child, when she asked to remodel her room. Being good at math and drawing, she studied architecture in college. “I think if I were a boy, I might have been encouraged to go into construction, but being female, I was encouraged to go into architecture.”
A second-year course in design-build theory and practice fueled her fascination: “That got me interested in the amazing moment when you have an idea, and you have a drawing, and then you try to put it into reality and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is a lot harder than I thought.’ So it was really humbling and exciting to figure out the problems and have it morph into something else when I actually built it.”
On her first construction job in Portland and expanding her horizons in Barcelona
“I moved to Portland in 2001 thinking I was going to get an architecture job right away. But that didn’t happen. A combination of 9/11, the economy coming to a halt and being young and naïve; you have to prove yourself in the workforce.” While in Portland, she went to a housewarming party and met the architect, which led to her first on-site job pouring concrete. “I lasted the first day, and it was, ‘See you tomorrow.’ And it just kept happening. It was a crew of three, and they did infill projects. It was really a job of making homes fit the neighborhood. I was learning a lot, and that led me to keep going.”
Eventually, romance and adventure inspired Angela to move to Barcelona, Spain, a design hub.
Angela worked for Prats Flores Arquitectos, an architectural studio in Barcelona, at first as a volunteer to get her foot in the door. She wound up with a job making models of residential and public buildings. “It was a lot of hours with very little pay,” she says, but it was worth it.
It was there through a colleague that she met someone who worked in a port. She thought it sounded intriguing and took the opportunity to get into shipbuilding. “Seizing that opportunity was the next step of my career.”
Angela ended up spending almost nine years in Barcelona working on ships, buildings, and furniture.
On being a business owner
Today, Angela is a licensed general contractor running her own business in Portland, OR. “I’m doing the design and build thing,” she says. “I am doing the drawings and project management, and I was doing the build-out.”
She started with a remodel, a basement apartment. Since then, she’s grown her business and become a mom, and she works hard to juggle the challenges of motherhood while running her business, interfacing with clients, doing project management, taking on design work, and working with subcontractors.
She enjoys the work: “I really like the problem solving of dealing with a space and listening to clients—hearing their needs and then transforming [their space] in a way that fits their budget and their ideals.”
On teaching the next generation of design and construction professionals
One of the amazing things about Angela is her incredible energy and passion for the work that she does, not only in construction, but also in working with people. In fact, in addition to running her GC business, she’s teaching high-school students the skills they need to get into design and construction.
She’s getting a new program up and running, embracing an ideal she holds dear.
“It’s been fulfilling in a different way,” Angela says. “Just tapping into the academic side of me and the bigger purpose of trying to empower youth in how to make things. Them having an idea and believing they can make it happen. That’s my goal with that program.”
On being a minority in construction (and in any business)
For Angela, talking about being a minority in a field is important. “It’s like talking about what it means to be brave.”
“If you go into a profession where you’re a clear minority, in order to stay in it, there’s a certain element that you have to have. It’s not easy. I think it’s getting better, but I would say that the microaggressions that one faces almost every day are draining. It either fuels you to keep going at it or you’re like, ‘this is not worth it.’”
Throughout her career, the discrimination hasn’t come from those she works for or with; it’s come from people who walk onto the job site with assumptions, thinking she’s there because she’s someone’s wife or daughter.
That’s why she feels it’s important to show the world how to engage with minorities. “Don’t tell a woman that they’re good at details and put them into finish carpentry. In a subtle way, it doesn’t feel good, even though you kind of think it’s a complement.”
She tries to instill this idea in her students, too. She makes a point of conducting an exercise in her class where she asks her students whether they’ve felt uncomfortable and whether they’ve noticed others feeling uncomfortable. She also encourages them to reach out to people who need support.
Angela’s advice for people who are minorities in their field
“Women or non-binary or anyone that’s a minority in a field, first and foremost, you have to be in an environment that welcomes and supports you. Then you can grow and be empowered to be ready for those microaggressions, because they’re going to happen, and hopefully in the moment be able to address them in a nonaggressive way but be able to bring light to it so that change can happen little by little.”
She knows how important it is to have support and to work in a positive environment.
“I always had amazing mentors and male role models that saw my potential,” Angela notes, “and I felt like we were a team. And in construction, there’s a lot of moments where you have to look out for each other. When you’re on site, if you have that camaraderie and respect, it gives you the courage to keep moving on and learning. So make sure you’re in a good environment that supports you and supports your growth.”
And now that she’s a business owner, she works only with those who will support her.
“When you’re the business owner, you can choose your suppliers and make sure that you’re respected. Right now I’m in a position where that’s what I do. If I’m not respected for who I am and how I work, then I don’t deal with subcontractors that don’t see me as an equal. You have more of a say in who you work with.”
Angela’s advice for homeowners
For those thinking about remodeling or adding on to their homes, Angela offers this advice: hire an architect to help you see the big picture.
“This is how architects are trained, to sift through the information that they’re given, so they can propose the direction that they see the clients want to go in. And sometimes it’s not the direction they thought they would be going in.”
Often, a client will approach her with an idea only to realize that it’s not really what they want. A bathroom remodel, for example, may not actually increase the market value of a particular home.
“And that’s great with New Avenue. If you’re talking about 20 to 30 grand to do a remodel, spending a few hundred dollars for an initial consult is well worth the money. The architect usually looks at all the systems and can kind of sift through all the information better than a builder could.”
She also recommends that homeowners look closely at their financial options.
“Just being well aware of what their max budget is before going further, just so that they know it’s not cheap, and being realistic about what it entails.”
On working with New Avenue
While at the Build Small Live Large Summit in Portland, Angela met Kevin Casey, the founder of New Avenue. She liked what she learned about the platform and decided to sign up.
“I believe in theory and practice, so I do want to have some element of my own projects while I teach, but you only have so much time in the day. I think having New Avenue is one way that I can see it being manageable, especially if I work with really good subcontractors and consultants as a team on a project.
“I love the platform. It’s really the perfect thing to have for my growing business, and it came at just the right time.”
Parting thoughts on the work
Looking back on her exciting career and at the road ahead, Angela is happy being in the design and construction industry.
“I love it. Even with the ups and downs and the hard parts, it’s been a very empowering career that has fueled my creativity. With the unpredictability of a job site and being able to problem solve and manage all the pieces, it’s really akin to how life can throw you some punches. I feel like I’m more equipped to deal with life because of my career.”
Did we mention we’re happy to have Angela on board?
We’re in awe of Angela’s experiences, her devotion to positive change, and her dedication to her clients and students. It’s an honor to be part of her amazing story.