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How James Phelps Grew His Own Construction Company

JCP Construction
James Phelps (center) is the president of JCP Construction, which he started with his brothers Jalin (right) and Clifton in 2008. Their projects have included Northwestern Mutual’s downtown office tower and Fiserv Forum.";

James Phelps thought about starting his own business for a long time. He turned the idea over and over in his mind while: learning about the trades at Milwaukee Tech, working in the Milwaukee Public School district's facilities department, rehabbing houses on the side, getting his undergraduate degree in finance and finishing a commercial real estate certificate program.

One evening, sitting with his two brothers on the stoop of a property they were renovating, the plan for that business finally began to take shape. It was early 2008, the U.S. was deep into the Great Recession, and the workload was thinning out at the construction firm where two of them worked. James understood project management, Jalin understood construction and Clifton knew administration. By the end of that year JCP Construction was born.

JCP Construction now has 35 employees and has either managed or worked on some of the city’s highest-profile projects, including the Bader Philanthropies headquarters, Northwestern Mutual’s downtown office tower, Milwaukee School of Engineering’s soccer and parking facility, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Fiserv Forum.

Here are some of James’ tips for other entrepreneurs:

  • Don’t give up.
  • Take people’s advice into consideration but know that it’s not the end all be all. If they’ve accomplished something, put more weight on it. If they’ve taken more risks and been successful in the risks they’ve taken, put even more weight on it.
  • In moments of discouragement, keep your focus. You just have to trust your process and make sure you’re not too far out of sync with where you need to be.
  • Get a good mentor. You need a good sounding board, a kitchen cabinet as they say.

Editor's note: This episode will be the last with Tim Keane serving as co-host. Kathleen Gallagher will still continue to host How Did You Do That? moving forward.