When John R. Soper Jr. and a handful of tradesmen and managers started doing business as Industrial Maintenance Services out of a garage next to his home in 1997, he had no idea what the future would hold for him. But he knew that he had prepared his whole life for the journey that would lead him to be named the Small Business Administration’s Michigan Minority Small Businessperson of the Year for 2008.
Soper, a former U.S. Marine, honed his experience doing construction work and taking on as many general labor projects as he could to provide for his young family. In 1988, he began an apprenticeship with the Michigan Carpenters and Millwrights, where he spent eight years working at the highest level for his position. He provided expertise, organization, and leadership to tradesmen, employers, and customers.
At the age of 31, Soper took the plunge into the world of business ownership and has never looked back. In its first year of business, IMS, a diversified general construction company, had sales of $600,000. Within five years, Soper grew IMS to a $4 million company, providing professional, technical, and construction services to production facilities, municipalities, government agencies, and private industry. In 2003, IMS was accepted into the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which helps small, disadvantaged businesses gain access to federal and private procurement markets. “The 8(a) program is an excellent strategy to ensure profitable growth in a company. There is no other program that could give us the knowledge we have gained as participants,” Soper said. Conrad Valle, SBA Assistant District Director for the 8(a) program in Michigan said, “John Soper and his staff ask questions and listen when we offer information that will help them grow their business. They are an excellent, family-oriented company, dedicated to their staff and customers. IMS is truly deserving of this award.”
IMS has expertise in construction projects such as building renovations, restorations, demolition, new construction, industrial construction, millwrighting, piping, and structural steel erection. Customers now include U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, State of Michigan, Michigan Department of Education, and Cleveland Cliffs Mining Company, just to name a few. “The opportunity to work with the federal agencies has taught us how to negotiate, increased our knowledge of contracting, and has even helped us in our private sector contracts,” said Soper. IMS was named one of the 2007 “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch” by the Edward Lowe Foundation.
But the company isn’t just about growth and profits. John Soper and his wife donate to the Escanaba Area High School for an academic scholarship for any student interested in pursuing a career in construction or a related field. They sponsor the boy’s and girl’s baseball teams, donate to the local veterans food drive each Christmas, and have donated tools and equipment for playground construction at local school districts.