Construction firm specializing in federal projects moves headquarters to Lawrence; firm gives $15,000 to Haskell Foundation

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Jackie Foley, center, presents a $15,000 check to the Haskell Foundation on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021 to form a new scholarship at the university in the name of Foley's late brother. Foley is the CEO of FireLake Construction, which recently moved it headquarters to Lawrence. To the left is Jerry Tuckwin, member of the Haskell Foundation, and the right is Greg Foley, Jackie's husband and executive vice president at FireLake.

About a decade ago, a single word dramatically changed the life of Jackie Foley, CEO of FireLake Construction, which recently moved its corporate headquarters to Lawrence.

The word: Vestibule.

Foley had recently quit her 20-year career as a bank executive to join her brother Bill Slavin in a new construction business he had started after an Air Force career.

The game plan was for the company to focus on working for the federal government as minority contractors — Foley and her brother are both part of the Potawatomi Nation. But to do that, Foley was told she needed to travel around the country introducing herself to government purchasing agents, who awarded federal construction contracts. It sure would be nice to have a resumé of past construction work to tout, but Foley didn’t.

Instead, she just had a pitch that her company would work really hard and “knock any project out of the park.”

Then, one day a purchasing agent out of Tulsa called and asked if her company would be game for remodeling a vestibule.

“I said, ‘absolutely,” Foley told a crowd at a Friday event. “Now, I have to admit, I didn’t even know what a vestibule was. I called my husband and asked ‘What’s a vestibule?’ He said ‘why?’ I said ‘Because we are going to remodel one.'”

Her husband, Greg Foley, ended up quitting his career of 30 years to join the company, and on Friday FireLake held a celebration at its new Lawrence headquarters to celebrate the company’s 10-year anniversary.

Jackie’s brother Bill didn’t make it to the celebration. He died two years ago, but was a big part of the event nonetheless. The company made a $15,000 donation to the Haskell Indian Nations University Foundation to establish a scholarship in Bill Slavin’s name.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

FireLake founder Bill Slavin is picture in a display at FireLake Construction. The company honored the late Slavin, who was a proud member of the Potawatomi Nation, with a $15,000 donation to the Haskell Foundation at Haskell Indian Nations University in his memory.

In other words, it was a big day for a company that has only been in Lawrence since about May. That’s when Foley moved the company’s headquarters from Lenexa to a newly renovated industrial building at 1011 E. 31st St. in southeast Lawrence.

Local economic development leaders who were at Friday’s event were excited to attract the company to town. The company has 88 employees currently, but is in a position to have more in the future as the federal government seems poised to do a lot more spending on infrastructure.

“Our pipeline of future business looks extremely good,” said Greg Foley, the company’s executive vice president. “It is probably as strong as it has ever been.”

About 15 of the employees are based at the Lawrence headquarters. The company has employees spread across the country at various federal facilities. The company does general construction work — like remodeling federal offices — but also installs and maintains security systems for federal facilities, and does IT work for federal locations as well.

Currently the company does a significant amount of work at Fort Riley, and a growing amount of work at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan. Plus, it works for a NASA facility in Cleveland, and has done fun projects like building one of the largest paint booths in America at the Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Jackie said.

In its first year in 2011, the company did about $1.8 million in business and had five employees. The next year, its revenue actually dropped.

“We struggled; we had a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of tears,” Jackie said of her and her brother in the early years of the business. “But my brother kept telling me we are going to be a big company some day, we are going to own a fleet of trucks, we are going to own our own building.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A piece of American flag art hangs in the office of FireLake Construction, which recently remodeled its new southeast Lawrence headquarters building.

Today the company is projecting $28 million in revenue in 2021 and has grown its employee base by a factor of more than 15.

“We did it, Billy,” Jackie said as she presented the donation to a Haskell leader who was on hand Friday.

Jackie said she decided to move the business to Lawrence because she had the opportunity to buy the building in southeast Lawrence, which previously was home to an electrical contractor. Plus, she has good familiarity with the community. Her banking career was in Lawrence, first with Commerce Bank and then with University National Bank.

A longtime Lawrence business leader, Smitty Belcher, owner of the P1 Group, also was able to vouch for the community. Jackie said Belcher is a mentor who has helped the company grow.

“I always tease everybody that I got my MBA from Smitty,” she said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The headquarters building for FireLake Construction, 1011 East 31st Street, is pictured on Oct. 1, 2021.

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