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Rockaway engineer fears slowdown in city construction

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As the founder of a successful rebar installation firm in the male−dominated field of construction and engineering, Elaine Tomassetti has faced her fair share of challenges in her life. But speaking before business leaders at Queens College Friday, Tomassetti said the wilting construction market is unlike any she had experienced.

Tomassetti, co−founder of Rockaway−based J&E Industries, was the keynote speaker at Queens College’s monthly business forum breakfast and painted a grim picture of the health of construction projects around New York City.

“I’ve never seen it so tight. There’s a lot of public work coming out, but the bids for those projects just keep getting pushed back,” Tomassetti said. “There’s just nothing moving forward enthusiastically right now.”

A licensed engineer, Tomassetti cut her teeth in the construction industry working for her father, who has operated a construction and excavation firm in Brooklyn for more than 40 years. She said she became fascinated by the precision and synchronization the field required, and gradually took on more and more responsibility.

In 2000, she founded J&E Industries with her sister, Janice, and the steel reinforcement company has grown into a reputable and successful firm that employs 45 people.

But Tomassetti said construction has dipped sharply in the city, which she said was partly the fading of a boom the industry experienced in the early part of the decade and partly because of the growing economic crisis.

“Fortunately, we’ve still got jobs, but it’s getting harder and harder to find new work,” she said.

J&E is one of the firms providing steel reinforcement to the construction of the Freedom Tower, but Tomassetti could only sigh when asked how construction of the oft−delayed project is moving along.

“I was supposed to be out of there in September 2007 and I’m still there. I don’t know if it’s because of too many people with different ideas involved or what, but the process for getting things done with that project just isn’t efficient at all,” she said. “The money that’s being spent and wasted there, it makes you almost ashamed. We’re America, we should be able to get this kind of thing done and do it the best in the world.”

Several female business owners told Tomassetti of their struggles in succeeding in a male−dominated business world. To this, Tomassetti had one answer: “Hang tough.”

“You can’t be offended or held back. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to do a job and someone will say, ‘Oh, this is for your husband?’ You just have to ignore it. You just can’t dwell on that because then you’ll stay right where you are,” she said. “If you have the courage to try, you have the courage to succeed.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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