Tracey Syphax knows that sometimes it takes the will from within or a push from behind to open the doors in front of you. This knowledge, plus the hard knocks he received as a kid in the streets and as an adult behind bars, helped the New Jerseyan create one of the most successful Black-owned contracting businesses in the Garden State.
Syphax, 45, is the owner and president of Capitol City Contracting in Trenton. The company provides roofing, paving, landscaping and other home- improvement services for residential and commercial customers. Syphax established the company in 1995 in his home with funds from various sources, including personal savings. Revenues for Capitol City Contracting topped $1.2 million in 2007 and Syphax says earnings for 2008 will likely top $2 million.
For Syphax, the road to entrepreneurship was paved with obstacles, with his past as a drug abuser, thief and hard-core, gang-member thug coming back to haunt him. His subsequent jail term and criminal record made it difficult to secure certain business licenses and funding. “I was poor, came from a broken home and dropped out of high school for a few months,” Syphax said in a recent interview with The Network Journal. “It was a tough period in my life and I did what I had to do to make it while growing up.”
After his release from jail, he put his energy into clearing his name and starting a business. He obtained a high- school diploma, took several small-business development classes at a local community college and developed a niche-market strategy to establish and grow Capitol City Contracting. He planned to run the company for several years before approaching lenders for a business loan. Syphax says the company saw $32,000 in sales the first year. “I built my business by re-investing money I made back into the business,” he says. “I didn’t receive a loan for the business until three or four years after starting the company.”
In 2000, Capitol City Contracting became a certified minority-owned company with the U.S. Small Business Administration, enabling it to bid on procurement contracts at various federal agencies. The company soon landed a contract with the Department of Interior for $80,000. “Tracey [Syphax] and his team do excellent work,” says John Harmon, president of the Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce and a longtime friend of Syphax. “He offers hope and encouragement to others who have had a difficult background to start their own businesses.”
Syphax is married and has two children. The sight of young African-Americans hanging out on the streets of Trenton and elsewhere reminds him of himself, he says. “I tell them that they have to make better choices in their life. In a few cases, I’ve hired them to come work for me on various projects in and around the city,” he says.
An urban philanthropist, Syphax contends that it is not enough to maintain a successful business. It is equally important to share his good fortune with the community, he says. He regularly participates in career day programs and minority youth-empowerment programs across the region. His numerous civic awards include the 2003 AFLAC Entrep-reneur of the Year,
the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers Excellence Award and the 1999 Trenton Council of Civic Associations “Businessman of the Year Award.”
“Know in your heart that the goals you set out to achieve are achievable and be consistent and persistent,” Syphax tells other small-business owners. “Surround yourself with positive people in business who are willing to help you achieve those goals.”