Originally created 05/04/01

Women get into building



Vicki Blackburn, the president of Blackburn Homebuilders Inc., of Martinez, says a woman's place is building homes.

Her point was hard to argue last week. On Friday, she won Best Overall in the Builders Association of Metro Augusta's 2001 Parade of Homes.

She beat out six other contractors who participated with model homes in Evans' Knob Hill subdivision.

Building is clearly in the Blackburn blood. Her parents, Bruce and Virginia Blackburn, started the company more than 25 years ago. Her brother Ernie owns the separate E. Blackburn Construction Inc., which does commercial and residential jobs.

In the four years since Ms. Blackburn, 51, assumed the helm from her semiretired parents, she has built about 20 houses a year.

The brick residences she builds sell for anywhere from $180,000 to $225,000 each.

Her hallmark, she said, is houses on smaller lots - one-third acre on average - created mostly with "empty-nesters" in mind. The homes average 2,500 square feet. Many buyers already have raised children and are now looking for more efficiently designed homes with smaller yards to maintain, she said.

Even though she hasn't pursued construction all of her life - she taught school and marketed health services out of state before returning to the area five years ago - Ms. Blackburn said she has proved her abilities.

She said, regardless, people have trouble accepting the concept that a woman can run a construction company.

"I'm a woman in construction, but I am still dainty and dress like a lady," Ms. Blackburn said.

When her refined, feminine appearance leads to any confusion about her job, she simply sets the matter straight by her actions.

"I feel like I have to work harder than a man does," she said. "But I didn't have any trouble taking over the business and getting respect."

Nationwide, the number of women in construction is growing, but statistics show women are still the minority.

The National Association of Women in Construction says the number of women in the industry grew 16 percent from 1995-1999.

Of the approximately 9 million people employed in construction-related fields in 1999, only 886,000 were female.

The majority - 45.2 percent - worked in technical, sales or administrative support capacities. The rest were employed in management (32 percent), crafts (14.6 percent) or the basic labor pool (6.7 percent).

Because of the physical nature of construction work and its dangers - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks it as the industry with the highest number of worker deaths - some will continue to perceive construction as "men's work."

Ms. Blackburn said women have a special sense of what makes a house a home, and she predicted they will continue to carve a niche in the industry.

"She (a female builder) is going to pay more attention to detail. Women have more of an insight."

Laura Waller, owner of Augusta's Summerhill Interiors Inc., provided the award-winning interior design for Ms. Blackburn's model home on the tour. Ms. Waller agreed that the smallest details make a difference, down to the placement of the light switches. The often-described "woman's touch" can make the difference, she said.

But Ms. Waller acknowledged from her own experience that women in construction are "few and far between." She said it helps if a woman has grown up with construction as a family livelihood. She said her own father was a well-known general contractor in Statesboro.

The National Homebuilders Association has an Augusta-area Women in Construction chapter, of which Ms. Blackburn is a member. She said it has 20 women as members.

Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.