When she graduated from high school in 2013, Chelsea Ellis-Hogan had a choice: go to college for a business degree or delve deep into the asphalt industry at Sam Ellis University.
The latter option was admittedly a fictional school devised by its namesake, Ellis-Hogan’s father.
But his pitch was tempting. The elder Ellis would teach his daughter how to run a business through hands-on experience. And finally, she would take the reins of the family-run paving company.
She signed up with Sam Ellis U.
Now Ellis-Hogan, a 26-year-old black woman, is the majority owner of Jim Reynolds Asphalt, which was founded by her great-uncle in the 1990s.
She runs the business from its original Smoketown headquarters and employs most of the workers from the historically black neighborhood south of downtown.
And it helps to change the face of the predominantly white, male construction world.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 58,000 of the 10.7 million people employed in the construction industry are black women – less than 1%.
“I only laugh about it because I know everything about me is different,” said Ellis-Hogan. “I’m young, I’m a minority, I’m a woman too. I’m the complete opposite of what most people in the industry expect. I love it. It shows what we want, we can do it. “
The idea that Ellis-Hogan could go her own way was brought to her from an early age by her father, who owned an outdoor cleaning company, before joining Jim Reynolds.
Ellis was diagnosed with dyslexia and never attended college, his daughter said. He had his first child at the age of 16 and did not have the same opportunities as his peers.
“He had no choice but to be an entrepreneur,” said Ellis-Hogan.
Ellis’ hard work enabled Ellis-Hogan and her two siblings – who also work for Jim Reynolds – to make decisions they didn’t have. But he always made it clear to them that other people are not that lucky. And when someone needs a leg up, you borrow it.
“I remember looking at applications as a child that were on my father’s desk. They were grown men who couldn’t spell simple words, but my father gave them jobs, ”Ellis-Hogan said. “He gave jobs to people who just got out of jail. Growing up with it made us all give back and do more and be part of something bigger. “
Ellis, who retains a partial ownership of Jim Reynolds, said joining the family business means a lot to his daughter and he hopes she will take it to the level he has been able to by signing multi-million dollar contracts for takes on city-wide projects.
She has the drive and the connections to it, he said. And when combined with her passion for giving people a chance, she has real potential to make a difference in the underserved communities of Louisville.
“It makes me very, very happy and serene every time I get up and walk into the office and see what Chelsea is doing and how she is helping people and changing the way they think,” said Ellis.
“It means a lot because she could have gone any direction she wanted. Chelsea is a very talented woman. She could have started her own business. But she chose to be part of my dream and that is a business that we can pass on from generation to generation. “
This dream and the generosity of the family inspired Yusef Bibb, 34, who joined the asphalt company in 2019.
He met Ellis-Hogan through MAF Gallery & Cafe, a coffee shop she’d picked up on Barret Avenue that has since closed. The connection led him to Ellis, who encouraged him to run his own business – and give him a job to help build capital.
“In the end, I really liked the entire asphalt industry. I actually fell in love with her through the love that Chelsea and Mr. Ellis have for it, ”said Bibb, who grew up in Smoketown, down the street from the Jim Reynolds office. “… Just working with them has shown me how proud I can be of what I do.”
Bibb recently left after two years to become self-employed full-time, including a personal-professional development program called the Kocoon Online Academy. He is currently on contracts to lead courses at YouthBuild, Goodwill and Jim Reynolds.
“I look up to Mr. Ellis as a father figure. I see Chelsea as my sister, ”said Bibb. “… I have a feeling that they are not only a model for business, but also for how a family should function. I really appreciate that I have the opportunity to even experience it. “
Ellis-Hogan said that entrepreneurship can open doors for people that allow them to build personal wealth while contributing to their communities.
That’s especially important in a neighborhood like Smoketown, where the median household income is less than $ 32,000 – 56% of the median household income in Jefferson County as a whole.
“When people have access to information and knowledge about the business, it can change things for them,” said Ellis-Hogan. “… It makes us all passionate to be just an example in our community, that we are here, we try to do it, we try to improve and learn more about our finances. You can do it too. “