By: Molly English-Bowers
It may surprise some that the “construction worker” ranks third on Indeed.com’s projection of in-demand jobs for the next five years. But not Donna Tupper. The President and Owner of Infinity Northeast Inc. wants to spread the word that construction is a rewarding career.
“It’s a great industry,” Tupper said. Our conversation took place while Tupper was driving to Syracuse from North Carolina where Infinity Northeast is commencing development projects. “There’s a lot of opportunity in construction and the younger generations may not know this.”
With 36 years of experience in the industry, Tupper is making it her mission to inform young men and women about those opportunities. “My goal is to reach all younger generations, not gender- or ethnic-specific.” She has spoken at groups including Small Business Administration Women in Construction, New
England Regional Council of Carpenters, and Girls World Expo.
The latter 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. Syracuse has been a host to the organization in 2018 and 2019 and Tupper spoke, hoping to inform and educate those in attendance. “The girls come to look at opportunities that are available,” she said. “If you have no idea about construction, how would you know the opportunities that are out there? We try to explain what is out there and the vast avenues for girls to become involved in the construction industry.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 68 percent of high school students attend college, but 40 percent of those do not graduate, leaving a lot of time wasted and money owed. In addition, 37 percent of currently employed college grads are doing work for which only a high school diploma is required. It is that population Tupper wants to reach.
“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 is not going to diminish, regardless of politics. For those who find themselves unemployed during this difficult time, if you put in a little hard work, you will be financially stable with a solid career. Have no fear and take a chance in construction.”
Locally, trades are primarily taught at BOCES. Trade schools teach hands-on skills for specific careers, such as welding, auto mechanics, plumbing and carpentry. Among the benefits of a trade school education is the reduced time it takes to graduate, more affordable tuition costs, smaller class sizes, hands-on training, and job placement services.
Even though Tupper’s degree is in science, she took a chance on a new career after the birth of her first daughter. With limited options for childcare and a husband that often worked out of town, she considered her options.
“I quit my job and went into housing management for real estate companies,” she said. She began cleaning houses that had been vacated by traveling executives while they worked in Central New York. “The properties were vacant, and I could bring my daughter with me while I worked,” she said.
Real estate companies began asking Tupper if she could do more than clean; she started out painting, then flooring, doors, and woodwork. “I had an all-girl crew and we worked afternoons and evenings. That was 36 years ago,” she said. “It was gradual, and I had a lot of challenges with men. I was blonde and 22 when I started, and they thought I was naïve and inexperienced. Now, after years of hard work, I do not have to prove myself to anyone, and I do not take every project that I am offered. I work with a number of clients that believe in the professionalism and respect of the industry.”
Tupper is the president and sole owner of Infinity Northeast, incorporated in 2008. She is a member of the Syracuse Building Exchange and a signatory to Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Local 277. Infinity Northeast Inc. is also a New York State and Tennessee Certified WBE (Women-owned Business Enterprise). The main office is located at 6090 E. Taft Road, North Syracuse, with satellite offices in Murfreesboro, TN., Naples, FL., Orlando, FL., and on Thompson Road in Syracuse.
The office in Tennessee has made it possible for Tupper’s oldest daughter, Jessica T. Graham, to work for her mother as Senior Project Manager. She is educated in law and previously worked for the state of Tennessee. “She left her job and has been working with me for a number of years,” Tupper said. Tupper’s middle daughter, Stephanie K. Baker, is the Director of Human Resources and Union Benefits. She is educated in mental health and, also left her career to work with her mother.
It is vital to Tupper the employees and subcontractors of Infinity Northeast, are members of trade unions, such as 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.” The in-house trade work includes architectural, mill work and finish carpentry. Tupper hires subcontractors for other trade work when contracted as a general contractor.
After working in the field for nearly four decades, Tupper has discovered what she enjoys building. “I like repetitive work—casinos, high-end hotels, military barracks,” she said.
Among Infinity Northeast’s projects are: SUNY Upstate Health and Wellness Center, Syracuse, NY; Athenex Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, Dunkirk, NY; Resorts World Catskills, Monticello, NY; Del Lago Resort, Tyre, NY; and Seneca Nation Cultural Center, Salamanca, NY. Infinity also did the rigging and set-up for Woodstock ’94, located in Saugerties, NY.
She has also ventured into the latest in upscale family fun, “multi-tainment” centers containing bars, restaurants, movie theaters, high-end bowling alleys, laser tag and the like. “Ten years ago I did a research study for the Oneida Nation that found that if there is a gambler in the family, if you want them to come and stay at the resort, you need something for the other individuals in the family.” Tupper is associated with the development of UltraStar Multi-tainment and pursuing an interest in IRL Companies, which purchases distressed shopping malls throughout the United States to renovate and re-create their usage.
One reason Tupper was driving back from North Carolina was she had checked in on UltraStar, multi-tainment facilities in Cherokee and Murphy, both in the western mountains of the state. “I am pursuing the owner of Resorts World Catskills to put in a multi-tainment center. It’s close enough to New York City to attract customers and it would eliminate or reduce children being in areas of a casino where they shouldn’t be.”
Tupper is in the process of purchasing land in North Carolina to construct single-level, high-end housing for ages 55-and older. “These homes are for people who are looking to buy a single-level structure with a couple of bedrooms and no maintenance, in a gated community” she said. “I have decided I am done with Central New York weather and my work can be performed anywhere.”
Then there is the medical field, for which construction work will always be in demand. “I am in the planning stages of owning and developing a medical center in Naples, FL. Owner-Development is the highest level you can go in the building construction industry.” Given Tupper’s track record, she will succeed. “I never sit still.”
But she is also looking toward the future when she will retire and hand over the company to her daughters. “I’m 58 years old,” she said. “If my daughters allow it, I will drop dead working, because this is what I love to do. I love the industry, but I needed something more for future stability. My plan is to find property, develop projects and own them. That’s how I’m going to survive. I don’t want my children to worry about the future and having to support me or the stability of the company.”
At the same time, Tupper realizes the next generation needs to be exposed to construction as a career, especially as professionals near retirement age. “Most of my crew is over the age of 40,” she said. “I love my industry and I have huge passion for it. I don’t want to market my company; I want to market my story so maybe other people and younger generations will consider getting into the business. Anybody can start a company, you must work hard, stay focused and if it’s something you enjoy, it’s not like work. The money will just come.”
“Always remember, Be Honest, Be Kind and Live Life with Integrity.”