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From ’Small, Humble’ Beginning, E.T. & L. Corp Enjoys Decades of Success

Thu February 24, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

A water boy, who soon grew up to become a heroic bombardier, made it grow.

A woman, who happens to be the bombardier’s daughter, runs it. Her efforts have helped to make E.T. & L. Corp. one of the top women-led companies in all of Massachusetts for more than a decade.

Like many construction companies, E.T. & L. Corp.’s beginning was small and humble. The company was founded at the end of World War II in 1945 in Dedham, Mass., as Eastern Tree and Landscape Corporation.

In those formative years, in a nation healing from war and brimming with opportunity, the company focused on residential and commercial landscaping. Eastern Tree and Landscaping established its land clearing division in the early 1950s, and it quickly became one of the largest commercial land clearing companies in Massachusetts.

Eastern Tree and Landscape cleared thousands of acres of raw land for projects such as the impressive Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, and major dam sites around New England.

“We began as landscapers and land clearers, but my father, Anthony Colosi, can be credited for making E.T.& L. Corp. what it is today,” said Company President Jennie Lee Colosi.

“He started in the construction industry while still in high school as a water boy on sites around Boston and western Massachusetts. After serving as a bombardier in the Pacific during World War II, he returned home and began work as a union oiler. But he had higher aspirations and the ambition to make those come to fruition,” she added. “He joined Eastern Tree and Landscape in 1953, just as the company was beginning to find real success in the land clearing industry. And within just three years, he rose to the position of president.”

But her father’s ambition did not stop there.

“Anthony had a vision for the company and in his first decade as president, he led Eastern Tree and Landscaping beyond its initial scope of work. With the help of his background in construction and natural business savvy, the company entered into site preparation, land development and road construction,” said Jennie Lee.

In addition to clearing and grubbing, the company also undertook excavation work, embankments, storm water control and paving.

Due to this diversification and a new emphasis on construction, Anthony decided to change the company’s name to E.T.& L. Construction Corp. in 1964.

The Need to Expand

E.T.& L. Construction Corp. continued to succeed, soon outgrowing its home in Dedham. In 1971, the company moved its headquarters and yard facilities to Rte. 117 (Great Road) in Stow, Mass., where it operates to this day.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, E.T.& L. Construction Corp. expanded yet again to include bridge work, becoming one of the most experienced highway, road and bridge builders in Massachusetts.

During this time, the state awarded many large contracts to E.T.& L. including the construction or rehabilitation of sections of the state’s most traveled highways from the New Hampshire line to the Rhode Island line, from Worcester to Cape Cod — Interstate Routes 95 and 495, along with Routes 25, 290, 190, 146, 9, 2 and 140.

This golden era inspired Anthony’s daughter to pursue a career in civil engineering. Having seen her father at work, very much growing up in the business, she joined E.T.& L. after graduating from Georgia Tech in 1977. The days of endless roads to construct were coming to a close, however, and in 1986, E.T.& L. expanded yet again with the creation of an environmental division.

“Since then, we have completed about 100 landfill closures and/or expansions in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, in addition to site preparation in the private sector for companies like Digital and New England Power,” said Colosi.

Seeing the company through these changes helped prepare Jennie Lee for varied economic conditions when she took over from her father in 1988.

Woman-Run Construction

Jennie Lee has seen vast changes in the perception of a woman heading a large construction company in the last 30 years.

“Being a woman in the construction industry is much less of a big deal now than it was when I first started. When I was in school for civil engineering in the mid-1970s, some professors acted as though I was invisible in class, never choosing me to answer a question,” she said. “Back then, there were many men who felt that a woman should not work construction or be in engineering school.

“After I graduated, I definitely had to prove myself to many of the old-timers I encountered. But soon, they saw that I actually knew what I was talking about and treated me like a true co-worker and associate,” added Colosi.

“In my experience, no one is discriminatory like that today. On the contrary, I have had many employees tell me they really enjoy working for a woman. Perhaps it’s that I feel more comfortable putting a more personal touch on the company than a man might. Who’s to say? All I know is that I truly enjoy working in this industry. It’s exciting and challenging. It’s different everyday.

“I [and everyone at E.T.& L.] feel such a sense of accomplishment when I stop and consider that we take plans — ink and paper — and turn them into something tangible, usually quite vast, for people to use,” said Colosi. “I think that’s what draws people to the industry, men and women. Here at E.T.& L. Corp., we almost have more women with civil engineering degrees than we do men with those credentials. If we are invisible now, it’s because women have been accepted in the industry as equals.”

E.T.& L. in 2011

Today, E.T.& L. Corp. (a subsidiary of E.T.& L. Construction Corp. created in 1998) continues to maintain a varied portfolio, completing road, bridge, site and environmental work around New England.

“We completed our largest project to date — $37 million — in 2007 with the Sagamore ’Flyover’ Project. We replaced the traffic-causing rotary before the Sagamore Bridge with a series of interchanges to ease summer travel to Cape Cod,” said Colosi. “E.T.& L. also has been awarded some very unique projects, such as the recently completed rehabilitation of a covered bridge in Hardwick-Ware, Mass. that is more than 100 years old.”

With the economic downturn several years ago, work has become more sparse and thus also much more competitive. But E.T.& L. Corp. has been able to counter these challenges with its diverse work experience, being frugal and a commitment to “a job well done.”

“To that end, in recent years we have begun work for local airports rehabilitating runways in Turners Falls and North Adams [Mass.] and installing an EMAS at Worcester Airport. We have also won jobs born of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; one such job was the construction of a section on the Manhan Rail Trail Bike Path in Easthampton/Northampton that included the installation of a prefabricated bridge for a trail overpass,” said Colosi.

“This past year also brought another departure for E.T.& L. as we, in a joint venture with J.F. White Contracting Company, were awarded our first design-build project, reconstructing seven bridges along the CSX railway in central Massachusetts,” she added.

“Currently, we are working on three landfills in South Hadley, Fitchburg and Bourne, Mass., in addition to several bridge projects in Lee and Seekonk, Mass. And with the coming spring, we will be starting projects in Brimfield, Colrain, Williamstown and Bridgewater-Middleborough, Mass.”

During the height of its next active work season, the corporation expects to employ about 180 people.

Top Women-Led Company

It is this perseverance and boldness to branch out that has characterized E.T.& L. from the beginning.

In 2002, Babson College’s Center for Women’s Leadership and The Commonwealth Institute began an annual research project regarding the consummate women-led companies in Massachusetts.

With the data gathered from a survey sent to female CEOs within the state, it tabulates not only scores of comparative statistics, but it also publishes a ranked list based on annual revenue.

Every year, E.T.& L. has landed in the Top 50.*

2002 — No. 43

2003 — No. 30

2004 — No. 35

2005 — No. 25

2006 — No. 25

2007 — No. 24

2010 — No. 28

(*In 2008 and 2009, the list was not published due to a change in focus; rather than studying revenue alone, the Center decided to research how women-led companies were coping with the recession.)

With construction making up only approximately 10 percent of the companies surveyed, these rankings make E.T.& L. Corp. one of the largest women-owned construction firms in Massachusetts.

“But it is our dedication to hard work done well that has served us best over the years,” said Colosi. “The company was founded at a time when work was ’work;’ it was a product of your hands, your skill, and the end result benefited the community as a whole. We maintain that passion for doing our best because it is our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers who use highways, roads, bridge and other work we do.

“We always keep in mind that when we build, we are building for the future. There is no better feeling than seeing people use and enjoy something that you have built or made safer,” she added.

“With this kind of pride and work ethic embodied in all of our employees, E.T.& L. will continue to be a well-respected and sought-after construction company.”

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