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Building trades in the blood

Entrepreneur draws on diverse experiences to build business

Yawu Miller | 11/15/2017, 11:03 a.m.
Abraham Gonzalez has come a long way since he was introduced to the construction industry at age 10, fetching tools ...
Abraham Gonzalez grew up working for his uncles and father, learning the basics of construction. Banner photo

Abraham Gonzalez has come a long way since he was introduced to the construction industry at age 10, fetching tools and helping hang sheetrock to assist his uncles in Miami with their carpentry business back in the 1980s, and working with his father renovating bathrooms and kitchens in Boston in the 1990s.

Now, he has 40 employees, including administrative staff working out of the busy Kemble Street headquarters of his firm, One Way Development. He works on as many as 80 jobs a year, from residential projects as small as $500 apartment turnovers to major commercial projects as large as a $1 million lighthouse reconstruction.

Along the way, Gonzalez had another game-changing job. He worked as a patient care coordinator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, connecting patients entering the hospital with nurses, securing their medical charts and essentially functioning as a first responder.

It was a radical shift from construction, but Gonzalez says it was a blessing in disguise.

“I worked in an environment that was extremely well-structured,” he says. “It has paid off a lot here in the office. There are things I learned in the hospital that I use here, like client charts, bids, estimates. When you’re in a hospital, you have to coordinate with different specialists. In construction, it helped me compartmentalize work with subcontractors.”

An important choice

After graduating from Boston College in 2000 with a degree in psychology, Gonzalez’s life could have taken a different turn. But because he had finished his coursework nearly a year before graduation, he found himself with time on his hands and a yearning to see a bit of the world. He returned to his father’s business for six months and squirreled away enough money for a jaunt to Europe. While traveling, he came to the realization that he actually liked construction work.

When he returned, he went back to work with his father for four years. In 2004, he broke off on his own.

“We had two different schools of thought,” he says. “My dad to this day likes to be out in the field swinging a hammer. I feel there’s money to be made in the office, being able to present yourself to a bank, having financial statements. There was a whole other level of business that I wanted to attack – commercial, government work.”

He started off with apartment unit turnovers, updating kitchens and bathrooms and making repairs to ready apartments for new tenants. Little by little, he worked his way up in the field. Now, he builds houses from the foundation up, working with local community development corporations and the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development on affordable housing projects.

Gonzalez takes pride in One Way Development’s work and in fostering a diverse workforce. On a mixed-income development in Mattapan, Gonzalez had 98 percent minority participation in workforce and subtrades — not a bad record at a time when developers routinely fail to meet the 25 percent minority participation rate called for in the city’s Boston Resident Jobs policy.