Birmingham engineering services firm faces COVID-19 challenges

Birmingham, Ala. — Selena Rodgers Dickerson’s first steps as an entrepreneur were rooted in crisis.

She created SARCOR, her engineering services firm, during the country’s worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Laid off from her engineering job, Rodgers Dickerson became her own boss full-time in 2010.

While SARCOR had ups and downs through the years, Rodgers Dickerson continued to build her business skills and develop a strategic vision for her company’s success.

As the firm entered 2020 and approached its 10th anniversary, SARCOR faced a threat that had never once crossed Rodgers Dickerson’s mind. “I could not imagine a pandemic,” she said.

COVID-19 did not pose the same kind of immediate threat to SARCOR that it did to some businesses. The firm’s civil engineering and inspection services primarily involve government and/or transportation projects that were not initially interrupted by COVID; however, Rodgers Dickerson did have cash-flow concerns early on as government offices closed down and left outstanding payments in limbo. As the pandemic wore on, she saw a string of future projects postponed or canceled outright.

Operating a black- and woman-owned small business, Rodgers Dickerson knows how quickly little problems can become a big problem.

“The effect on my business wasn’t initially critical, but it could have gotten really bad,” Rodgers Dickerson said. “It has kept me up at night.”

She is grateful for the help she received through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and the local BhamStrong emergency relief fund for businesses.

The BhamStrong fund, which was launched last spring through the city of Birmingham’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, provided assistance to at least 85 local businesses.

The loan fund included $1.2 million approved by the City Council and an additional $1 million from area businesses. BhamStrong oversaw the public-private fund along with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and the Birmingham Business Resource Center.

The assistance preserved SARCOR’s team of three full-time and two part-time employees, who were deemed essential workers, and it allowed Rodgers Dickerson to purchase protective equipment to keep them safe on the job.

Today, her team remains busy with transportation and civil engineering and inspection work related to sewer rehabilitation, streetscapes, cyclist and pedestrian safety, and subdivisions.

While the pandemic has temporarily tempered Rodgers Dickerson’s vision for hiring additional staff and pursuing new avenues for growth, she keeps pressing forward. She is grateful for the opportunities and assistance she has received, and she is determined to pay it forward even in this challenging time.

“I have a great team of people, staff, mentors and other small businesses, that helped SARCOR get where it is today,” she said. “My team has dug in deep and persevered through the challenges faced during this pandemic. I try to be a mentor and be there for my team and others. I believe you reap what you sow. We must keep planting and harvesting.”

For more information about SARCOR, visit the firm’s website.

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