THE HOUSE THAT ORVILLE BUILT
Man walks away from office job to start successful construction company
GROWING UP in the poor, rural community of Three Hills, St Mary, Orville Sewell could not have fathomed that as a young adult, he would own a successful construction company.
His father, Terrence Sewell, worked as a ‘house man’ at a small hotel in Ocho Rios and was the main breadwinner for his four children, while his mother, Mervalyn Brown-Sewell, operated a tiny shop from the family home.
Describing his upbringing as ‘rough’, Sewell, 33, refused to use it as an excuse for failure. Instead, he channelled the work ethic he acquired from his strict father and created one of the most successful new construction companies in Jamaica called NECCA (North Eastern Construction Consultants & Associates). The holder of a master’s degree in civil engineering and construction management, he started the company in 2009 with a JN Small Business loan while employed full-time at the National Works Agency as a senior project officer.
“Jamaica National was able to facilitate me because I had a vehicle and could get a loan on it. Young people just need the opportunity. It would be good if they could get small business loans without collateral just to get a start. If it was not for the JN Small Business loan, I do not think I could have started at that time because I had a student loan, too, and a small salary.”
He opened his first office in Port Maria, St Mary, and after some success, he opened a second one in Port Antonio in 2011. Although his construction business was thriving, he worried about possible mismanagement because his fulltime job took most of his time.
“My girlfriend Keray Raymond, 29, who helps me to run the business, was worried about mismanagement and gave me an ultimatum. She said I should either close the businesses down and remain in Kingston or leave my full-time job and dedicate my time to the company. I then made the very difficult and scary decision to leave the safety net of my fulltime job.”
Asked if he regretted it, Sewell shook his head enthusiastically. “Never. It was the best decision I ever made. Sometimes you have to let go of your safety net in order to truly succeed.”
After closing down the Port Antonio office in 2014, because of the lack of development in the area, he opened his flagship office in St Ann’s Bay. The business continues to flourish with an average of three major residential building projects per year, with renovations and minor construction projects in-between. He employs three persons full-time and between 20 and 30 part-time, depending on the level of work to be completed.
“Currently, in Plantation Heights, St Ann, there are about eight workers. There is also a site in Runaway Bay with 10 workers and another 10 in Boscobel, St Mary. As a businessman, I like to
ensure that my workers are properly compensated for the work they do. Sometimes I even pay them more than I pay myself because of how hard they work.”
Nevertheless, like many Jamaican entrepreneurs, the high crime rate severely impedes his company’s success.
“The reputation of Jamaica overseas has led to many instances of me losing work. People would prefer to purchase a house in another Caribbean island or in warmer states such as Florida. Another thing is, most clients, even those residing in Jamaica, are afraid because of scamming and fraud in the construction industry. Some contractors take their money and disappear, so we are all stereotyped. The few bad apples affect contractors like myself who try to be as fair and reasonable as possible.”
Nevertheless, Sewell refuses to give up and he strongly believes that more young Jamaicans need to venture into the technical field because many university graduates struggle if they do not have a skill to fall back on.
“The technical field is the best right now. Many of these people, in Jamaica and overseas, make far more than degreed young professionals such as doctors and lawyers. I was in shock when I realised how much they make because, when I worked for the Government, I did not make even half of that. The earning power is endless.”
Sewell is an advocate for small businesses and he believes that many are struggling simply because they are overtaxed.
“Small businesses need a tax break, so, for example, if they pay taxes for two years, give them a break for a year so they can develop the business properly, or just reduce taxes right across the board.”
Housing development designed by Orville Sewell. Right: Orville Sewell, creator of the successful construction company NECCA, when we interviewed him recently.
Orville Sewell oversees this construction work taking place in St Ann’s Bay.