You Can Go Home Again, Contractor Martha Moore Learns

Martha Moore’s love for her daughter led the Las Vegas singer back to her Arkansas home. It led her to rehab and, ultimately, it led her to take control of what became McCormick Works, a paving company now based in Ozark and Little Rock.

Ten years after Moore assumed sole ownership of the company, McCormick Works has 23 employees and annual revenue of between $10 million and $14 million.

In 2012, she also opened Seal-Tite of Arklahoma, a Mulberry company that produces an environmentally friendly pavement sealer. So far it has only two employees, but it’s profitable, Moore said, and has the potential to rival its big sister company.

Moore’s story is an appealing one and a positive one, and the contractor and her company have received a number of awards, including 2013 Woman Business Leader of the Year from the Arkansas Women’s Foundation.

She is grateful for the accolades but Moore is also candid, savvy and focused. The recognition helps her achieve her two main goals: growing her business and opening a “transition” house for women like she once was, a drug-addicted single mother.

The recognition “helps me as far as being accepted in the area,” Moore said in an interview earlier this month in her Little Rock office. “And it makes me proud because it has been a lot of hard work. But it’s been well worth it. In the end, when I’m no longer here, I want to be able to have created something that’s going to outlive me and benefit my state.”

Moore’s father, Ed McCormick, opened McCormick Asphalt Paving & Excavating Inc. in Altus in 1990. The company focused on paving driveways and roadways.

McCormick, whom his daughter laughingly described as “one of those fierce competitors who never had any friends on the other side of the fence,” had been in construction since 1970. When the company he’d been working for sold its asphalt division, McCormick received some profit-sharing money, but he also found himself “looking around in his 50s saying, ‘Who am I going to work for?’ Because basically he had not made a life.”

So Moore’s father and her brothers launched their own enterprise.

His daughter, however, had her own dreams.

“All my life, when I was a kid, I was always a talented singer,” said Moore, now 55. “And I was in a band when I was a teenager. I always had a dream of being a famous musician. So when I was 21, I went to Las Vegas, and I worked out there for about 10 years. I was going to make my mark on this world in that career.”

But making music in Las Vegas is a hard business in a hard town, and Moore lost her way, only to find herself a single mother with a drug problem.

Motherhood, Moore thinks, is the most important job. The birth of her daughter, Carissa, clarified her priorities. In 1990, Moore made a hard call, to Ed McCormick, “one of those big, giant rednecks” who all her life had warned her of the consequences she’d suffer if she ever strayed from the right path.

“The day that I picked up the phone and said, ‘Dad, I’m in trouble’ — he should have had a cape on, the way he came to my rescue.

“I got off of that airplane and I had [only] the dress that I was wearing and my baby, and my dad said, ‘Give the baby to your mother and get in your brother’s car and I will see you when you get home.’ And my brother took me to rehab. I stayed at Gateway House in Fort Smith, Ark.”

Moore had the most powerful of incentives to get her life together. “Carissa turned a year old when I was in drug rehab, and I gave her a mother for her birthday. And that’s a true story.”

The Family Business

Kicking addiction is hard, but finding a job after rehab is often harder, and Moore had to work to support her daughter. She tried everywhere in the area but struck out, so she approached her father.

“He said, ‘No. Asphalt is no place for a woman. This is not the kind of work that you [should] do.’ It was not well received by anybody. So I told him I didn’t have any choice. I’d have to go to work at the bar if he didn’t give me a job. And I went to work on his asphalt crew on the road with him the next day.”

She began as a roller operator, but if asphalt needed to be shoveled or raked, she did that too.

In 1992, Moore became office manager of McCormick. In the late 1990s, her eldest brother decided to leave the company. She became secretary-treasurer but still owned no stock. By 2000, she’d bought some stock in the company, and when her father retired soon after, she bought out his shares.

Moore and her younger brother were partners for about four years, but in 2004, he was ready to leave and Moore bought him out, becoming sole owner of McCormick.

Once she’d gained ownership, Moore, now titled company president, learned of the business advantages of certifying as a disadvantaged business enterprise, or DBE, helping McCormick win government contracts. In addition, McCormick was certified as a woman-owned enterprise, and because Moore’s mother was born in New Mexico to Mexican immigrants, the company was certified as a minority-owned enterprise.

Moore makes no bones about it: These steps were key to growing her business. But, she said, they are far from the sole reason her company has prospered.

“You have to have the knowledge. Just having the certification doesn’t give you a green light,” she said. “You have to do the work, and there are requirements that you’ve got to meet on every job. And you have to build your reputation in the field, which has always got its challenges.

“But it’s worth every bit of the work that it takes to get there. And it’s been wonderful for my business.”

Women in Construction

Asked how she was welcomed as a woman in the construction industry, Moore chuckled.

“Not well, in a lot of cases,” she said. “Men are just more comfortable dealing with men.”

But she’s particularly grateful to one man who did take her seriously: T.D. Casey of Jack Woods Construction Co. of Russellville.

Ed McCormick had worked for the company as a foreman for years, and Casey “was the first person that really gave me any credit for knowing what I was doing,” Moore said.

Casey, now deceased, was respected in the industry and his acknowledgement of Moore’s abilities “gave me the encouragement that I needed at the time to stand up and be counted.”

In addition to certifying to qualify for government contracts, Moore said, she has learned the importance of strategically partnering with other contractors and of being flexible. “We not only do asphalt paving; we do site work, gravel, culverts,” she said. “We’ve even done electrical, building construction. I’ve found that over the years, diversification is how you keep alive in construction. And I’m not afraid to take on any job.”

McCormick Works projects include parking lots at the Little Rock Air Force Base and campsites, roads and flood damage repairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The company’s clients also include the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, the state Highway Department and the cities of Booneville, Barling and Ozark.

MJP House

Although Moore aims to expand Seal-Tite, she said next on her list is her effort to open a transition house in Altus that would help women with addiction problems return to the community. The MJP House is named for Michael, Justin and Patrick, three family members who lost their battles with addiction.

Moore is not at all afraid to tell her story, although it sometimes embarrasses her mother.

“Sometimes when I’ve been talking to people, my mother will lean over and say, ‘You know, you don’t have to tell everybody that you talk to that you were on drugs.’ But I say, ‘Mom, if I can help somebody, that’s what it’s all about.’

“If anybody looks at my life the way it was and the way that it is now and looks in their own mirror and says, ‘I can do this too, because if she can do it, I can do it’ — that’s what it’s all about.”

Moore has remarried and now lives in Mulberry. She helps look after her parents, who live in Altus. With Carissa about to earn her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Moore is ready for another challenge: She wants to get the college degree she never had time for.

Moore laughed when asked how her big, giant redneck of a father felt about her success. Her father is not an emotional man.

However …

“When my dad looks at me and says, ‘Well, you know, I’m proud of you, Sis.’ That’s as good as it gets.”