Self-made Woman; Tupper Urges Younger Job-Seekers to Consider Building Trades

By: Martha Conway

Donna Tupper - Headshot

Donna Tupper got her start in the building trades by cleaning and patching up vacant properties for realtors. As clients requested more of her, she made it her mission to learn more, becoming a property manager and eventually hiring other women to work with her.

Thirty-eight years later, she is president and sole owner of Infinity Northeast, Inc., a New York state and Tennessee Certified Woman-Owned Business, and she can be selective in the projects she will undertake. The business is headquartered in Syracuse, with satellite offices on Murfreesboro, Tenn., Naples, Fla., and Orlando, Fla.

Tupper’s eldest daughter, Director of Project Management Jessica T. Graham, has headed up projects throughout the US for her for several years now. Graham brought to the job an education in law, a real estate license and experience working for the state of Tennessee. Middle daughter Stephanie K. Baker serves as director of human resources and union benefits; she is educated in mental health but also left her career to work with her mother.

Tupper is a member of the Syracuse Builders Exchange and a signatory to Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Local 277 and says she has a very loyal client base that wants the meticulous attention to detail that Infinity Northeast provides.

“We all have our own special gifts,” Tupper said. “My field people are spectacular handling projects at the site, and they don’t care they are working for a woman-owned business.”

Labor: The Next Generation

Tupper said she has a core group of foremen, superintendents, field workers and administrative staff; however, the field is growing, and seasoned professionals are aging out of construction. The time is ripe for getting younger generations interested, recruited and trained to work in the building trades

“Kids don’t know that construction opportunities really exist,” she said. “It’s as strong as the medical industry. The demand for medical facilities and housing isn’t going to diminish, regardless of politics.”

Locally, trades are primarily taught at Board of Continuing Education Services locations. Vocational-technical/trade schools teach hands-on skills for specific careers, such as welding, auto mechanics, plumbing and carpentry, among others.

Among the benefits of a trade school education are the reduced time it takes to graduate, more affordable tuition costs, smaller class sizes, hands-on training and job placement services.

“I go to various events, trying to promote the opportunities that exist in construction,” Tupper said. “I’ve led classes of women within the union and am closely involved with the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, Girls’ World Expo and the Small Business Administration’s Women in Construction.”

Girls’ World Expo is a 21-year-old national program that aims to connect girls to resources and partners in their communities to help them realize their potential. For people who don’t know where to start, the union is a great resource to become familiar with.”

Tupper said not all kids want to or are suited to attending college, and many schools have eliminated shop classes for staffing or budgetary reasons.

“This is a great field that can put you right to work after high school with on-the-job opportunities and boots-on-the-ground experience,” Tupper said. “Be dependable, conscientious and open-minded, and those opportunities could be endless. Good employers know their workers can make or break their companies, and they like to reward them with more responsible – and financially rewarding – positions in the ranks.

“They don’t want to lose any good employees. For instance, if we profit over projections, everyone profits. My team shares in that money because I want to reward the people who made it possible. I have seriously loyal people who are so much more than employees, and they all make above union rates. If we’re not a team, we can’t do the work we do.”

Tupper said she didn’t want people to think there is space only for the very young.

“Older adults have opportunities, too, and with so many people having lost their jobs during the COVID shutdown last year, it’s a good time to look around and see what else is out there,” she said, explaining that most of her crew is over 40. “Maybe they had a lot of time to think about new goals while they were in lockdown and don’t want to go back to minimum- or low-paying jobs. Now is the time to explore this field.”

“For those who find themselves unemployed during this difficult time, if you put in a little hard work, you’ll be financially stable with a solid career,” she said. “Have no fear and take a chance in construction.”

Opportunities for women and minorities

And construction is one field where opportunities exist for diverse populations due to hiring requirements required of project owners, especially in public projects. In addition, there will be an enormous demand for more women- and minority-owned outfits due to government mandates for those public projects.

It’s vital to Tupper that the employees and subcontractors of Infinity Northeast are members of trade unions, such as the Carpenters Local 277. For that reason, if she were to take on an apprentice, he or she would need to join the union.

“I would have no problem having them learn in-house,” she said, adding that in-house trade work includes architecturals, mill work and finish carpentry.

Tupper hires subcontractors for other tradework when contracted as a general contractor.

“I love my industry and I have huge passion for it. I don’t want to market my company,” she said. “I want to market my story so maybe other people – especially younger generations – will consider getting into the business.”

She said if people work hard, stay focused and find something they enjoy, it’s not like work.

“The money will just come.”

The projects she loves

Infinity Northeast is well-positioned and well-experienced to complete public works projects. Among credentials in municipal works are projects completed for myriad SUNY locations, the military, Nine Mile Nuclear Power Plant, medical facilities, pharmacies, malls, hotels, motels, schools and more.

“I have discovered I like working on casinos, high-end hotels and military barracks,” Tupper said. “I am able to tackle these jobs because unions can provide the labor. It’s very important to me that my employees and subcontractors are members of trade unions, such as the Carpenters Local 277. If I were to take on an apprentice, he or she would need to join the union – I have no problem having them learn in-house.”

In-house trade work includes architecturals, millwork and finish carpentry; she hires subcontractors for other tradework when serving as general contractor.

COVID-related costing

People have had sticker shock in the post-shutdown world. COVID-19 has created shortages of staff to manufacture and bring products to market, and nowhere is this more evident than in construction.

Lumber, steel and other building materials have seen incredible cost hikes – in some cases as much as tripling in price – but that has not discouraged project owners who have to get the work done.

“Construction has been large COVID-19-proof, and we pride ourselves on our ability to schedule and stick to that schedule,” Tupper said.

One challenge of scheduling is whether the materials to complete the project will be available when promised at the price quoted, something that needs to be known before being able to build those air-tight schedules. Tupper has learned a lot about managing schedules and has groomed a team of problem-solvers to handle any impacts that might keep the project from moving forward.

“But you never cheap out on a job or cut corners,” she said, “because pretty soon the projects won’t be lining up for you. It’s better to reduce your profit a little than to compromise your integrity.”

Defining success

Tupper’s definition of success is when the Infinity team completes a project and hears the compliments on it, especially complimenting the ethics with which the project was handled, as well as the final project aesthetics.

“We’re one of the few companies that leaves a site without a punchlist,” she said. “My team is trained to never leave a site without a detailed punchlist, so we don’t have to go back.”

Tupper wasn’t worried about the challenges of 2020 – she was confident she could keep people busy, and she did.

“We’re moving into development, and that takes some planning,” Tupper said of property she is developing into self-contained communities in North Carolina and Florida, and medical facilities throughout the USA.

These residential communities will include residences with a focus on retirees who don’t want to do their own property upkeep anymore and that will be more mobility-impaired friendly.

“There are a lot of singles and couples who don’t want to take care of their properties anymore or climb stairs,” she said. “I want to help people really enjoy the last 10 to 20 years of their lives.”

She also is looking at what her target communities are lacking; for instance, Tupper said Naples, Fla., is sorely lacking in physical therapy facilities.

The development work is planned to support her own retirement down the road, while her daughters steer the legacy she’s built.

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HSE Consulting Services, LLC; Providing Quality, Integrity and Value for 25 Years

By Sarah Hall

When Brian King started HSE Consulting Services, LLC, in 1997, he ran the one-man operation from his house.

It’s a little bigger now.

With two locations and more than a dozen employees, HSE Consulting will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2022.  HSE’s team helps clients with safety compliance and training, hazardous material exposure assessments, asbestos, lead based paint, mold, environmental assessments and indoor air quality.

King says launching the company was “one of the best decisions I ever made.”

In 1996, after gaining experience in the asbestos and environmental consulting industries, King was working for an engineering company providing industrial hygiene services and stack testing required by the Clean Air Act Amendment when the company decided they no longer wanted to provide stack testing. King had a choice: he could strike out on his own with the $45,000 of work he already had contracted, as well as testing equipment and a company van offered by the engineering company, or he could take the position of Corporate Health And Safety Director he was offered at another company.

“At the time, my wife and I had just finished building a new home, and to top it off she had recently given birth to our youngest son,” King said. “It was an interesting decision. But I had confidence in my ability, and I had always wanted to be my own boss, so I took the engineering company up on its offer and formed HSE in early 1997.”

For several years King, an American Board of Industrial Hygiene Certified Industrial Hygienist, performed stack testing for industrial clients while adding industrial hygiene projects, including a survey for the Air National Guard in Niagara Falls, NY, preparing site specific health and safety plans and conducting training. When mold became recognized as an indoor air quality issue, King’s knowledge and experience as a CIH proved to be very helpful on large loss projects including the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi after Hurricane Rita/Katrina. HSE also worked on one of the country’s first major mold remediation projects.

“Water damage resulting from ice dams affected approximately 900 units out of 1,500 in about five different complexes in the suburbs surrounding Detroit,” King said. “Working with the insurance adjuster and the property owner we assessed the damage, developed a remediation plan and provided contractor oversight during the project to ensure the work was done properly.”

Now HSE’s clients include residential and commercial customers in both the public and private sector, from schools, municipalities and government agencies to industrial and manufacturing facilities and environmental remediation firms. The company also rents out health and safety equipment for confined spaces and community air monitoring, noise and vibration, among other things.

“We’re very diversified, so we fill a lot of niches,” King said. “One of the more interesting services we provide is asbestos consulting—building surveys, project monitoring, etc.—and laboratory analysis of asbestos and mold samples.”


HSE is the only laboratory in Central New York with a transmission electron microscope (TEM). This piece of machinery allows technicians to analyze materials with the smallest asbestos fibers.

“[Those fibers] really are the most dangerous from a health perspective, because they can penetrate deep into the lungs where they can’t be eliminated,” King said.


King said the TEM can see particles at the molecular level, which no other microscope can do. In New York State, some samples—non-friable organically bound (NOB) materials—require TEM analysis.

“We decided to purchase this very expensive tool and do extensive renovations to our facility to accommodate the TEM because in the end we felt that our clients deserved the sophisticated analysis with the convenience of a local dedicated supplier,” King said.

Gene Cochran, Corporate Sales and Marketing Manager for HSE, said the TEM is just one of the things that sets HSE apart from its competitors.

“HSE has tremendous value in all we offer our clients,” Cochran said. “From analytical in our laboratories, to working with different manufacturers and industrial facilities in keeping their workplace safe and compliant with New York State and OSHA standards, and the training programs we offer can assist literally any businesses.”

In order to continue to serve its client base, HSE has expanded, moving into a 4,000-square-foot building in Cicero in 2011. The firm also opened a satellite office in Endwell five years ago. And according to Vice President of Operations Dan Hoosock, they hope to open additional satellite offices throughout New York state.

“We are always looking to expand our offerings to include services that are complimentary to those that we currently provide, and that benefits our clients in improving the health and safety of their workforces or the protection of the environment,” Hoosock said.

King said expansion is contingent on maintaining the same level of service.

“We would only do this if we can maintain the quality and integrity and value to our clients that we have now,” he said. “While we appreciate every opportunity we won’t take on a project unless we think that HSE is the right choice and that we can accomplish the client’s objectives.”

HSE is able to provide such a high level of service because of its employees.

“This is a very educated group of individuals with extensive experience and knowledge in their respective pieces of the business,” Cochran said.

King agreed.

“All of the people we’ve hired have helped grow HSE in one way or another,” King said. “However, a couple deserve special mention: my wife, Tina, eventually came on board full time and is now the CFO, and Dan Hoosock, HSE’s Vice President – Operations is an excellent manager and trusted executive. I seek their counsel for just about every major decision HSE makes. And we would not be the company we are without Doug Gee, our laboratory manager, who is without a doubt the most accomplished laboratory manager in the area.”  

Indeed, King strives to be at the top of the environmental, health and safety game.

“I’m a competitor, so I love the competition to be the best and the work that this requires,” he said. “To be the most knowledgeable so as to advise your clients appropriately, you have to constantly study the subjects upon which they request your assistance. To attract the best talent, you have to work on the business to make sure you’re doing everything you can to be the employer of choice among your competitors. To give your clients the best value, you have to work on your pricing to ensure that the company makes an adequate profit while still being competitive—our clients know how hard we work for them to get the results they need. We compete internally to continually improve ourselves, our processes, our service and ultimately our client’s satisfaction.”

New York State 2021 Workers’ Compensation Updates

By: Brett Findlay, Vice President, Business & Construction Risk, OneGroup

There have been significant changes applicable to New York State workers’ compensation this year. An aggregate rate decrease on the horizon, an increase to the maximum weekly payroll limitation and an increase to the maximum workers’ compensation weekly benefit will most likely have the largest potential impact.

New York State employers will again benefit from an aggregate rate decrease to their workers’ compensation programs over the coming year.

On May 14th, 2021 the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board filed its annual loss cost indication with the New York State Department of Financial Services. An approved and published filing for the expected decrease of 6.4% of the overall loss cost level was then announced on July 15th, 2021. The change in rates is effective on policies renewing on or after October 1, 2021. This is the sixth consecutive year with an overall workers’ compensation loss cost decrease in New York State.

The impact of the loss costs, or rates, will vary depending on each individual classification code.

Again, it is important to note that these rate changes will not go into effect on any individual policy until October 1. If your effective date is before that date, you will have to wait until your policy renewal before any potential rate changes apply. Regardless of when your effective date is, you should know the exact rate changes to your classifications sooner rather than later. It’s important to not only forecast the future costs of your program, but also to develop a marketing plan for your upcoming renewal.

I anticipate that this type of rate fluctuation will cause some volatility in the insurance marketplace. Insurance carriers may look to using higher loss cost multipliers, amongst other possibilities, in order to offset rate decreases. You should be in front of this, as should your broker.

Additionally, the maximum weekly payroll limitation/cap for eligible classifications has risen significantly. Effective July 1st, 2021, the new cap will be $1,594.57. This is a 9.1% increase from the prior years’ cap of $1,450.17. There will be an impact on the cost associated with eligible employers’ workers’ compensation premium.

Also effective July 1st, 2021, the maximum weekly workers’ compensation benefit increased by 9.1% as well. The new maximum benefit is $1,063.05 as opposed to the prior years’ $966.78.

You may ask what this means? For any individual questions and/or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us at your earliest convenience.

For a better understanding on the potential impact to your business, please reach out to Brett Findlay, Vice President of Business & Construction Risk, OneGroup.  You may reach Brett direct at (315) 280-6376 or email

OneGroup is a team of specialists, dedicated to risk management and construction industry specific insurance issues. OneGroup serves as a resource to your organization for all your construction specific questions and concerns. And takes great pride in being at the forefront of industry trends.  You can learn more about OneGroup at: or more specifically,

State of Upstate New York Construction Industry

Earl R. Hall, Executive Director – Syracuse Builders Exchange

It is remarkable what a difference a year makes when comparing the state of the construction industry in upstate New York.  Without reflecting on the obvious COVID-19 related and governmental mandated challenges from 2020, the state of the regional construction industry is strong.

One of my most accurate barometers has been the architectural billings and regional architectural activities.  While such is not the only measure for future construction opportunities, it does tell a compelling story for what to expect in the next 6-18 months.  Although my prediction of a 25% decline in the first half of 2021 projects out for bid was slightly high, my prediction of a resurging economic recovery in the second half of 2021 and all of 2022 is proving to be correct. 

Architects throughout the northeast United States and upstate New York are reporting a strong recovery, hampered only by a shortage of employees to fill many open positions.  The architectural billings from those firms have continued to grow substantially over the past few months, indicative of the strong demand from clients to develop future projects.  Much of the new architectural work is being performed in the commercial and industrial sectors.  While the northeast may lag the national average a bit, upstate New York is poised to take advantage of the increase in architectural services in the public infrastructure, institutional, commercial, and industrial spaces.  Unfortunately, there remains a shortage of qualified architects for hire.

Much of the design work is reported to be associated with building renovations, remodeling, retrofits, and rehabilitation work on existing structures.  Specifically, such construction work is more prevalent in the northeast region of the United States than elsewhere in the country.  Preserving existing historical buildings and upgrading existing properties remains high on the list of clients seeking architectural services.  A local example of this is the collaborative project between the Syracuse City School District and Onondaga County to renovate the former Central Tech High School into a state-of-the-art STEAM school in 2022.

Regionally, many projects remain in the pipeline for construction, with other significant potential projects being strongly considered by elected officials and project owners alike (chip fabrication plant in Clay, NY, and Route 81 project).  Project owners who postponed projects in 2020 are now planning those projects for later in 2021 and beyond.  The continuation of the Amazon projects in Liverpool and Dewitt, the new Crouse Health Center, Cree’s Carbon Device Manufacturing facility in Marcy and Utica’s new Mohawk Valley Health System hospital are just a few examples of current projects under construction in central New York.

In addition to the construction resurgence, there remains optimism about the infusion of federal stimulus dollars to fund regional governmental initiatives, especially those projects included in the federal infrastructure bill recently approved by President Biden, Senator Majority Leader Charles Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Such infrastructure projects will include roads, bridges, wastewater treatment facilities and installation of broad band technology to underserved communities throughout New York state.


Although the construction industry is poised to take advantage of future construction projects in upstate New York, many issues employers are experiencing today may continue into late 2021 and beyond.  Concerns which may impact construction in the future include:

Inflation – From an economic perspective, inflation is defined as a general increase in prices and decrease in the purchasing value of money.  With the influx of trillions of dollars into the United States economy, and thus to communities across the country, inflation remains a huge concern to project owners and construction contractors alike.  Over the past 9 years, the average annual inflation rate has been 1.6%.  An annual inflation rate of 2.5% could very well add 10% to a project’s total cost.

Increase in Material Costs and Material Shortages – Due to inflation, the decline of purchasing power over time, the significant increase in material costs, and material shortages, project owners will pay more for the cost of material on their projects which may impact their ability to develop a project within budget.  While the industry is seeing some signs that the out-of-control price increases in steel, lumber, cement, etc. may have stabilized, industry leaders are wondering what the new normal in prices might look like in late 2021 and 2022, and when the timely availability of material will return.

Supply Chain Issues – The deliver of materials to construction job sites remains a major issue for contractors and project owners today, with no end in sight.  Labor shortages impacting all sectors of the industry from contractors, delivery drivers, suppliers, manufacturers, etc. continues to slow the delivery of goods and materials essential for the timely completion of projects.  Projects have not been canceled because of supply chain issues, but contractors remain concerned about contractual obligations to general contractors or project owners.  Pundits have opined such supply chain issues may see relief later in 2021 once the labor force problem below improves.

Labor – COVID-19, New York State and the federal government have compounded the labor shortage problem that has plagued the upstate New York construction industry for the past few years.  New York State’s inability to enforce return to work requirements for those collecting unemployment insurance has significantly impacted the construction, retail, and hospitality industries.  The federal government’s continuous $300 unemployment insurance supplement to New York State’s unemployment insurance benefits in many cases incentivizes those who are unemployed to not return to the workforce.  In addition, the federal government’s requirement for employers to pay COBRA premiums for those unemployed or ineligible employees only compounds the issues as such also is a disincentive to return to work. 


The construction industry in upstate New York has strong momentum, powered by the predicted influx of federal and state dollars funding significant projects for years to come.  The funding of projects by various governmental entities, supplemented by the return of private capital into the market, will lead to a significant period of growth for the industry.  While headwinds may pose short-term obstacles for contractors and project owners, the future of the upstate New York construction industry remains on an upward trajectory.