Entrepreneurs should never be afraid to be the first to try something different or to tackle problems in a different direction. Tonto Rock Products LLC has made it a success as the first Disadvantaged Aboriginal Business (DBE) company to be certified for sand and gravel manufacturing. But this is not the only example of how the company reinvents the success of a small construction company.

When Ames Construction recently awarded a major contract to the Arizona business, it marked the culmination of the year when the company scored a number of important projects.

A Success Story of DBE

Small Business Trends has been talking to Forrest Gressley, President of Tonto Rock Products, about how the company has achieved its success and the challenges it faces in the future. .

Gressley characterizes the success of his company as a kind of David and Goliath’s story.

“One of the unique things we have done is to obtain our certifications in industries that were typically dominated by large corporations,” Gressley said.

Successful Entrepreneurs

Like many other successful entrepreneurs, Gressley saw a unique opportunity. He saw a niche where he could provide the materials that entrepreneurs need for heavy road projects with his family business – a federally certified mining pit.

But there was another piece of the puzzle.

“I have a Native American background.This, and coming out of the economy we just did, I decided that all the benefits I could find, I was going to use, “said Gressley

This led him to research the DBE program. The federal program is designed to combat discrimination on highways and other federally funded contracts across the country. Gressley quickly saw the opportunity to give an advantage to his business.

Amerindian tribes

“We could not afford to go out and buy massive goods and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting them approved,” Gressley said. “Still, we have Native American tribes all over Arizona that have vast undeveloped resources.”

He spent the next two years presenting the idea to entrepreneurs and further developing the business model.

“They fell in love with it and that has translated into the successes we have right now,” Gressley said.

The economic collapse

It all started during the economic collapse when Gressley inherited the family business and began looking for a new direction to take the business. He decided that the best way to use the family’s resources was to take the reins himself during this difficult time. Previously, the company sold its interests in mining operations and took a royalty.

“At first, it was hard enough but I started to develop myself, and rather than take another entity, I decided to do everything myself internally”, added Gressley.

Ready to operate

He spent most of the next year working to run his business. He built himself an entire factory and called it one of the most difficult things he’s ever had to do.

One of the other challenges that Gressley has been facing from the beginning was a particular requirement of the DBE program. To be certified, a company must already be operational. A proposal or a business plan will not take you to the door. And the program is required to obtain certification to participate in contracts supported by the Department of Transportation (DOT).


He has contracts (more than 10 million dollars according to his estimates) but he has trouble finding the capital to achieve them. He also said that the location of capital to finance the overhead of the operation was virtually impossible. This is a familiar problem for small businesses facing strict banking restrictions on loans.

However, there is a good side. The hard work and perseverance of Gressley have paid off and have attracted the attention of at least one customer willing to pay every week to help the company build up its reserves.

“Lack of capital is a problem that many small businesses and DBEs are facing in the industry right now,” says Gressley. “Many large companies are needed to do unique things like these in order to keep small businesses funded and active.”

Photos: Tonto Rock Products