<span class='image-credits'>Ben Tierney</span>

On taking the plunge: Three local women on making their own path

Admirer: “Tell the owner I like his work.”

Owner: “I’ll tell her you said so.”

Women are often subject to stereotypes, whether we like it or not.

Add in the fact that there is never really the right time to start a business, make a change or pursue a dream. There is a constant work/life balance, often the numerous demands of motherhood and much more that can get in the way.

Three local women who have taken the plunge and courageously made their own path in life share how they made it happen – on their own terms.

Jenifer Acosta, owner of Jenifer Acosta Development inside The Legacy in Downtown Bay City.

Jenifer Acosta, owner of Jenifer Acosta Development

Working on so many different real estate development projects in the region, Jenifer Acosta has learned to trust herself immensely. She’s the brain and the brawn behind several of the area’s development projects lead by Jenifer Acosta Development, like the Times Lofts, The Legacy, and the Bearinger Building in Saginaw, along with additional upcoming projects in the region.

“Every project is its own separate deal, with its own special challenges and I am always learning,” says Acosta. “I don’t ever want to, nor do I expect to be an expert in any single aspect of this industry. Working on so many different projects has honed my sense of self and I’ve learned to not second guess my decisions.”

The Legacy is now home to 26 residential units and three commercial spaces.

Acosta got her start working for a developer in Miami after pursuing her graduate degree in real estate development, with a focus on sustainable development. She found her first few projects only added fuel to the fire for wanting to pursue real estate development as a career, which eventually brought her back to Michigan to deploy her skills in her hometown.

While there is plenty of pre-mortem research before any major deal is signed, Acosta admits she thrives on the threat of failure, especially for the multi-million-dollar projects.

"I made the decision very early on that my work would all be done under a personal brand, not a huge firm."

“I am very comfortable with what I don’t know and that I will constantly be learning in this industry,” says Acosta. “And I made the decision very early on that my work would all be done under a personal brand, not a huge firm. The threat of failure is something I’ve learned to appreciate about the process.”

“I want to have a hands-on, curated approach with all of my projects and sometimes that takes a little more time, but I think in the end, that level of care results in a better delivery and a better representation of what the community wants,” says Acosta. “Those principles have shown up in The Legacy now that it is nearly complete. After three years of work, it’s now home to 26 residential units and three commercial spaces and I hope people can see the amount of care and attention to detail that went into it.”

“Every project is its own separate deal, with its own special challenges and I am always learning,” says Acosta.Acosta stresses it’s about taking appropriate, calculated risks and setting the right boundaries that work for you. She sets clear parameters in order to accomplish tasks within her day, like flagging messages for follow up and setting a timer for responding to emails.

“Time management is key and is something I hold myself to in order to maintain an appropriate work-life balance,” says Acosta. “I say no to evening events and activities much of the time and try to stick to having one work-related event at night each week. If I don’t have the appropriate work-life balance I know I will suffer.”

“Time management is key and is something I hold myself to in order to maintain an appropriate work-life balance,” says Acosta.

As for those that keep her in check and firing on all cylinders, Acosta keeps a core group of women she can bounce ideas off of from all aspects. “They are a crucial group that keep me in check and I can always count on touching base with them to see if I am heading in the right direction,” says Acosta. “Sometimes it is a small detail and other times it’s a sounding board to question if I need to walk away from a deal. That group has been vital to have, but above all my dad is my number one mentor.”
 

Emily Cross, owner of All My Dawgs Pet Service.

Emily Cross, Owner of All My Dawgs Pet Service

When Emily Cross graduated college, she started down a traditional path for many in the hospitality industry. Newly graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Hospitality Business, Cross went on to pursue her Level 1 Sommelier before stopping to follow her gut.

“I had moved to Midland and was working on the next steps in my career, but I realized that working in hospitality would mean not seeing my family on a normal schedule and would often be working holidays. I gave it some thought and decided it wasn’t something I was willing to sacrifice.”

“I definitely had moments where I checked in with family and friends, asking them ‘am I crazy for wanting to try this?" says Cross.

Cross started All My Dawgs in 2016 to build off her passion for “happy dogs, happy people and outstanding service” and has built the business over the course of nearly three years in Mid-Michgain.

Cross also had a dog with high levels of anxiety that required special care, especially during the day or while she was away from home. She researched pet sitting and services and found a mobile support application that would grow with the business.

“I definitely had moments where I checked in with family and friends, asking them ‘am I crazy for wanting to try this?’ but it has all worked out really well in our first few years,” says Cross.

Cross now maintains a healthy client list of local pups and has seen her business grow 10 times since launching in 2016.

“I still remember getting my first phone call from a client wanting to book our services. I was so excited and had the feeling this business just might work.”

Cross now maintains a healthy client list of local pups and has seen her business grow 10 times since launching in 2016. The most important lesson was learning when to say no as the business progressed. She started off doing many of the walks herself, as many as 50 per week while still working another job, but eventually became comfortable with relying on her team of walkers. She still provides walking services, but only a few times per month.

Cross at home with one of her two dogs.

She has found part of her success has come from having the support of family and friends to hold her accountable and also cheer her on and has even mentored others as they kick around business ideas.

“The best part about making my own path has been being totally accountable for making the business work,” says Cross. “I have found that it is very empowering to call the shots on what the business needs and I like the flexibility being my own boss provides. I never have to submit a vacation request and I like that.”


Jennifer Lee, marketing coordinator for Three Rivers Corporation.

Jennifer Lee, Three Rivers Corporation

After working in marketing for Caltech Industries, Inc. and eventually Clorox, Jennifer Lee made the jump six years ago to a smaller company that would broaden her responsibilities, taking on all of the marketing efforts for Three Rivers Corporation.

Nationally, the percentage of women represented in construction is staggeringly low, averaging around nine percent of the workforce. Three Rivers statistics stack up just under the national average, but Lee says the company has seen an uptick in women employees recently.

“We have welcomed a good number of women recently, including a pipefitter/ welder, iron worker and a plumber, to name a few,” says Lee. “It’s been a trend we’ve seen within the industry of more women getting degrees in construction management or engineering. Often, we’ve seen women excel in project management and they tend to have a different perspective on things, which works well in very detailed builds.”

Three Rivers’ statistics stack up just under the national average, but Lee says the company has seen an uptick in women employees recently.
Lee credits her success in a male-dominated industry to her quest to continuously learn something new. “My favorite question to ask is ‘why?’ because I like to understand how things work,” says Lee. “I try to live by the principle of never being the smartest person in the room because if I am, I am definitely in the wrong room.”

Lee’s willingness to ask for a favor or information for being able to get things done in an efficient manner is something that has helped her along the way.

“Many times, I’ve come across women who don’t want to ask for things and I think that can hold women back in the workforce,” says Lee. “I have no problem calling up someone and asking for what I need to get a project done.”

“My favorite question to ask is ‘why?’ because I like to understand how things work,” says Lee.

She serves on a number of boards but stresses the importance of knowing when to say no. “It comes down to my desire to provide actual value to something I devote my time to,” says Lee. “If I am spread too thin and can’t give an effort or cause my all, it’s time to prioritize and cross a few things off my list.”

Lee was recently recognized for her willingness to dive in and help, not just at Three Rivers, but on the numerous initiatives she volunteers for and was nominated by United Way of Midland County for Volunteer of the Year Award, an honor extended by the Governor’s Service Awards.

Lee is looking forward to an exciting year with Three Rivers Corporation, as the company wraps up a few major projects like the Saginaw Road closure, the Ellsworth Place Condominiums, and a few others.

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. As the Managing Editor of Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner. 
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