Ines Hutchins has always enjoyed building things, whether it be relationships, a construction career, or a highly successful business based in Paducah.
She studied architecture in her native Venezuela, and planned to continue her studies upon moving to the United States about 20 years ago. However, a construction job in Florida changed her career trajectory and ultimately led her to Paducah, where she formed her own company, INTEC Group, a little over three years ago.
"I took a job doing construction management for a residential contractor in Florida, getting ready to transfer my credits and I just realized architecture is not what I wanted to do ... and I fell in love with construction management."
In construction management, "you are in control of the entire project from the beginning, which we call 'the cradle to the grave,'" Hutchins said.
From the conception of the project all the way through to completion, there are a lot of moving parts.
"Right away you have to have a team, engineers, architects, surveyors. And you've got to decide who's going to build it, and you put your subcontractors together. And, you've got to keep a budget ...," she said.
"It's really exciting to be able to control it and make it happen."
Based in downtown Paducah, INTEC Group is an Economically Disadvantaged Woman Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) and a Small Business Administration certified Hubzone firm in Kentucky. The company specializes in construction services to the federal government, including the Army, Air Force and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
INTEC has managed over 100 federal projects with contract values in excess of $50 million dollars. The company currently has about 25 projects at Fort Campbell.
Hutchins, 42, was the only participant from the commonwealth at the annual Women Build America conference, held in Washington, D.C., March 3-5, held by the Women Construction Owners & Executives, USA.
"I had focused the first three years on really growing the business, getting established, and then I started thinking how can I impact the industry I love," she said, of joining WCOE last year. "Helping women in construction is really a big goal of mine."
The organization advocates for laws and regulations that create a more level playing field for women in the industry, according to Hutchins.
On the last day of the conference, attendees met with their federal legislators to discuss issues. Hutchins met with First District U.S. Rep. James Comer and a representative of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The conference also dealt with issues impacting the industry as a whole, Hutchins said.
"We heard great news about our industry, that we are moving in the right direction," she said. "All of the indexes show that construction is trending up."
However, at the same time, "We're starting to see a lot of the trades workforce (men and women) leaving because the baby boomers are retiring. We're not seeing as many new and younger people getting into the trades."
According to Hutchins, while construction remains a male-dominated industry, there are opportunities for women in the field when it comes to pay.
"When you look at the 'pay gap,' women across all industries are getting about 79 or 80 cents per dollar (compared to men); in construction women are getting about 96 cents per dollar. So it is a fantastic industry for women to be in," she said.
Hutchins believes that growing up in Venezuela, where she learned to be social with people from a variety of backgrounds, helped her in construction.
"I could relate to the laborer, to the architect, the surveyor and the inspector, because I was used to dealing with a lot of different personalities," she said.
Her father was an inspiration and a role model.
"He studied metallurgical engineering at Purdue University with a scholarship awarded by the Venezuelan government in the late 1950s. He never traveled outside of Venezuela and came from a very poor family. After graduating, he helped put his brothers through college.
"And, he taught me how important nurturing relationships are in business," she said.
She also credits mentoring she received working at Vanguard Contractors and GCCS, after moving to Paducah about 10 years ago, prior to forming her own company.
Hutchins also speaks highly of the community.
"Paducah is in a great location, centrally located for me," she said. "I work all over the United States and it's a good location for me personally. I love the airport. I fly out of Barkley (Regional Airport) as often as I can. It's easier for me to get home and right to my kids (sons Sebastian, 13, and Mateo, 6)."
It also helps her be near the job sites at Fort Campbell, and nearby Corps of Engineers projects like Kentucky Lock and Dam, or Lake Barkley.
Hutchins is looking forward to helping other women, especially younger women, enter the construction industry.
She recalls a conversation she had with a young attendee at the Women Build America conference who felt drawn to the field but had never been on a work site.
"We talked about it. I said if that's what you want to do, don't ever be afraid of being the only woman," she said. "They're not looking at you because you're a women. They're looking at you to see if you are smart or not.
"So the first things you say, make sure they're smart. That's typical of first impressions. That isn't (only) the business world. That's just life," Hutchins said.
"If you make the right first impression you've gained that trust and respect ... and then you've got it."