Cam Colon, Founder and President of CAM TECH SCHOOL of CONSTRUCTION, has a couple of well-defined ideas about success. 1) "Work hard and pay your dues now to achieve your goals;" and 2) "If you want to succeed get rid of the fear that's holding you back from realizing your dream".
Taken from the Tampa Tribune, 2/3/2000
One dream he realized early on was to run his own show rather than playing in somebody else's. A crossroads in his life gave him the means to foster those dreams in others. The Tampa native became a contractor in 1958, and soon had his own company. The entrepreneur spent decades building custom homes, apartment houses and some early adult congregate living facilities.
Along the way, he also discovered a love of teaching, passing along lessons he had learned and infusing new generations with his work ethic. In 1992, like many other builders, Colon was feeling the recession's pinch. And a North Carolina company had bought the construction school where he was teaching part-time. The new owner wanted him to continue teaching and to sign a non-compete agreement. Colon said no, worried that if it didn't work out, he wouldn't be able to teach anywhere. At the same time, his then-girlfriend Rita Garcia was newly out of a job. One night over dinner, they agreed to start CAM TECH SCHOOL OF CONSTRUCTION.
Garcia, now Colon's wife, organized free informational seminars. She and other family members stuffed envelopes and mass-mailed brochures. Using their savings, and never borrowing capital for the business, CAM TECH was born.
By the time their first course started, they had 28 students. Now, their rosters top out around 500. The school now offers classes in Fort Myers and Orlando, as well as Tampa. CAM TECH also offers a fully-stocked bookstore specializing in exam reference material and hard-to-find construction books.
From the beginning, the couple worked to market Colon's entrepreneurial skills and experience to help others realize their dreams of business independence.
"Most of our students come to CAM TECH with technical skills learned in the field, but to be a licensed contractor and strike out on their own, they need the business skills as well. That's why a major focus of the four-weekend course, like the State exam, deals with the business and finance aspect," says Colon.
When they started the school, the two-part State Licensing Exam was offered only three times a year and CAM TECH's classes, like every other school's, were timed to coincide with the State exams. Then, in August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit and created an immediate demand for contractors to put devastated South Florida back together. Suddenly the test was offered 24 times a year. Many schools changed their style, offering cram courses to accommodate the faster pace.
But not CAM TECH. "We made the decision to continue teaching the comprehensive course three times per year, because our mission hadn't changed. We want to educate students, not just get them licensed," Cam says. "We wanted to give them the tools and knowledge to survive in this industry."
Not all students who pass the test go into business for themselves. Some work for bigger companies, but for many, the license represents the chance to strike out on their own.
One of their successes is Frank Vari. Vari passed the general contractor's test in 1997, and afterward opened Vari Construction Services, Inc. in Lutz, Fl. Vari, already a civil engineer with a consulting business, says the classes helped him focus his scarce time and scattered attention on studying for the exam. Now Vari's company is busy building homes in Silver Oaks Village in Zephyrhills.
Successful students range from folks like Vari, with college degrees, to others like Mike Asaro, who quit school at age 13. Today he runs Asaro Construction Group, Inc., the five-employee company in St. Petersburg he started after passing the exam.
"A lot of methods I use to estimate jobs now, and the formulas I use now, I never knew before," Asaro says. "I really feel like they've helped me to succeed in my business more than just passing the exam."