Navy submarines submerged silently at sea get their orders by picking up one-way signals sent from a not-so-secret, deep-forest canyon in Snohomish County.
The nearly 14 miles of antenna wires there criss-cross Jim Creek in a shape resembling a Christmas tree and connect to a transmission building with thick, copper-lined walls.
When rainwater began leaking into the 1953-era transmission building, the Navy asked Rozanne Garman whether she could fix it.
Yes, she said.
Then, as she always does, Garman started researching. How in the world do you fix a one-of-a-kind, Cold War-era relic that still serves a vital national defense purpose?
“The copper sheathing was leaking all around the base of this radio tower. We had to figure out how to take out the copper, patch the leaks and then put the copper back … and we could work only when the Navy wasn’t sending signals through the tower,” said Garman, president and CEO of RHD Enterprises in Tumwater. “One of my favorite projects we’ve done.”
Garman herself has become a South Sound business favorite.
Last August, political and business dignitaries gathered in Tumwater to cheer while she tightly gripped a 3-foot-long pair of Chamber of Commerce scissors and snipped a ceremonial red ribbon.
On its surface, that simple act marked a double success for RHD Enterprises:
Garman’s firm — a general contractor specializing in commercial and industrial construction — had graduated from a 9-year-long federal program specifically designed to train, support, and mentor disadvantaged minority- and women-owned businesses. The program supports roughly 4,000 businesses each year.
RHD Enterprises recently had grown into a new headquarters — and adopted a bold, new brand thanks to the insightful minds at Tacoma’s Rusty George Creative.
Below the surface, however, the crowd couldn’t have known the struggle, doubt, grit, and compassion it took for Garman to start RHD Enterprises originally in Tacoma, compete in what’s still a male-dominated industry, and do it as a Native New Zealander immigrant and single mother of two.
“Many times I wanted to give up. It felt overwhelming,” she said. “It’s easy to talk about success, but people don’t know how truly challenging being an entrepreneur is.
“Some of the beauty of it,” Garman said with only a tinge of jest, “is that if I’d known what I was getting into, I never would have done it.”
And she did it only because she had to. A decade ago, Garman ran RHD on the side as a fledgling, home-based tile contractor while working a comfortable job as a project manager for another minority-owned contractor in the federal SBA 8(a) program.
Until the owner fired her for being too good.
“He came to me one day at the peak of the recession in 2008 and said, ‘Rozanne, it’s time to leave the company.’ He saw something in me. He thought I could take my own company and do something with it as an 8(a). He basically kicked me out of the nest. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have made the leap on my own.”
Look at Garman and RHD today, and you’ll see the signs of success: 2018 Association of Washington Business Connect Award for supporting women and marginalized community causes. 2017 100 Fastest Growing Minority-owned firms in Washington. 2017 Washington State Small Business Administration Person of the Year. Thurston County Chamber 2016 Boss of the Year. Work coming in from the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, State Department of Labor and Industries, and many others. Less than a year in RHD’s new headquarters, and Garman already has started scouting for a larger location as the firm has ballooned to 30 employees.
Ask Garman how she did it, and she will tell you how she didn’t.
“I wasn’t knocking down doors. I didn’t want to be part of an angry movement,” Garman said. “At the same time, I realized I was standing on the shoulders of all the women who have come before me.
“When I started RHD and thought about the culture I wanted to create … I wanted a family-owned vibe and to create a space that was safe; a place where you hunker down and work hard, yet be there for each other, have fun, develop strong relationships, where you can hold each other accountable and the quality of our work speaks for itself.”
Dan Voelpel is a former award-winning newspaper columnist and has observed, written about, and advocated for the South Sound for more than three decades. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.