Mark VII Enterprises
Mark Santo would love to tell everyone about his early construction work for the U.S. government, from the missile defense program buildings in the Marshall Islands to American embassy construction and renovations he helped oversee in Israel, China, Malaysia, Jamaica, Macedonia and the Cayman Islands.
But he can’t, he says with a smile, because so much of the work was top secret.
And though he gained considerable knowledge and experience about how government contractors operate, when it came time to start his own general contracting business in his hometown of Omaha, Mark VII Enterprises, he sought out the experts at the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC).
“I was weighing my options in 2010,” Santo recalls. “International work was too hot. American dollars going to big projects around the world had disappeared. I didn’t choose to start as an entrepreneur, but I had to do something.”
Santo saw an advertisement for a construction security technician at Offutt Air Force Base but wasn’t sure if it was right for him, so he met with Andy Alexander of NBDC’s procurement technical assistance program.
“He listened to what I wanted to accomplish and told me I was 100 percent entrepreneur,” Santo recalls.
“He showed me the step-by-step process of what I needed to do to position my company to do government contracting and how to use NBDC resources.”
Santo started with small projects, acting as general contractor on public or military jobs that required five or more specialty trades and the level of sophisticated project management he can provide. “I looked at projects other big contractors didn’t want to take on,” he says. “I knew it was a niche I could be competitive in.”
His company is a City of Omaha Tier-I Small Business, Economically Disadvantaged Total Small Business, and Center of Veteran Enterprise verified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business. A veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard, Santo has built his reputation by leveraging his past experience on government and military projects. He worked with Contractor Development Services Inc. to secure his first bid bond. Today, Mark VII has a bonding capacity of $2.2 million.
“It only took us four years to go from zero to $1 million in bonding capacity,” he says, “and I anticipate that to go well beyond $2.2 million this year.”
Mary L. Graff, NBDC government contracting specialist, says Santo has also been active in the community as a volunteer, including his service on the City of Omaha Permits & Inspections Department Building Board of Review.
“He continues to develop his business,” she says, “while also assisting his sister and wife in developing a woman-owned construction business, which he hopes to see his daughters operate when they became adults.”
Success takes hard work and commitment, Santo says. And that’s no secret.