Business spotlight – National Painting Contractors Incorporated
SAULT STE. MARIE, Michigan, August 8, 2022 – James McClusky, Sault Tribe member and Owner/Manager of National Painting Contractors, Incorporated, has been an entrepreneur ever since he could remember, recalling his first foray into business as a youth, at age 5 doing door-to-door sales in Pontiac, Michigan through the Olympic Sales Club catalog. He never slowed from there, quickly looking into other avenues to make some spending cash. At 10 years old, he partnered with his childhood friend Billy, and JW’s All Around the Year Cleaning and Services was born, business cards and all. “We borrowed a push mower and some rakes, we did that for a few years before acquiring some snowblowers, a riding mower, and other equipment… we did it all, lawn care, cleaning, painting, and other odd jobs, we were just kids,” says McClusky.
James’ father owned a painting company in Bloomfield Hills where his older brother worked. “All of a sudden, I’m 16, and I have a kid of my own on the way,” remarks McClusky on his motivations for jumping into the Painting industry. He made the difficult decision to drop out of high school and began painting full-time, working with his dad and older brother as he needed to have health insurance in order to be emancipated and live on his own. His stout work ethic and competitiveness quickly landed him a union-based painting job at 18.
By the time McClusky turned 20 he was named foreman on several projects, much to the irk of some of his older colleagues. “They didn’t understand why some 20-something kid was now telling them what to do. Maybe I was a little cocky about it, but I hadn’t fallen in love with the industry at the time,” explains McClusky. After completing his GED, he enrolled in the Journeyman program and became certified, thinking that a skilled-tradesman position with General Motors might be a stable path for his future.
The same entrepreneurial spirit that first drove him as a kid and led to his first successful business came calling once more. “The union work just didn’t feed my soul… I started another business as a side hustle” offers McClusky. He decided to go back into business for himself fulltime, forming a residentially-focused painting business, Empire Painting, in 2002. Based in Flushing, Michigan, his business quickly took off. McClusky worked on all types of projects, from single-family residential painting, historical preservation projects, commercial rehabs, leading to a real estate and property management spinoff of his painting business.
“We acquired ownership in the Stockton Center at Spring Grove. We helped with the demo and renovation, but the owners needed help with financing, so we became 25% owners… we went on to purchase and rehab a trio of other rental properties,” recalls McClusky. He found that many problems just needed creative solutions, and that the more flexible he became in his problem solving, the more opportunities came his way. It didn’t take long for McClusky to realize that operating in only one region was becoming limiting for his businesses. If he could expand, he could ensure the security he envisioned for his employees and sustain the level of growth he sought for everyone.
In 2009, he looked to Asheville, North Carolina to begin a new regional-based branch of his growing business. Within a short time, McClusky moved the bulk of business operations to Asheville and began to focus on commercial contracts, rebranding both offices to Commercial Painters, Inc. in 2011 to reflect the company’s renewed focus. Working on contracts nationwide in 44 U.S. states (including Puerto Rico), McClusky had ample opportunity to learn and grow within the industry. “If you open yourself up to collaboration, there’s enough pieces of pie for everyone,” remarks McClusky on one of the keys to his continued success in the Painting industry. He sites a network of friends and fellow business owners as key collaborators throughout his 26 years in the industry. In 2014, an opportunity for a VP role with ISP Painting, Inc., based in Chicago, came McClusky’s way. He was working a lot, growing and nurturing his network with every contract he successfully completed.
M “I think the biggest challenge is balance. You can find yourself buried trying to manage between your cashflow, your personal time, and how much time you actually want to put into your business.” James would go on to relocate to the Chicago area, eventually deciding to dissolve his painting business, opting to place his entrepreneurial focus on real estate exclusively. “Take some time for your mental health, know when to take a break. For me, it was time to come home and reconnect,” says McClusky on his decision to move North to be closer to family. He attended traditional workshops and reconnected with the Sault Tribe Traditional Medicine program upon relocating to Kincheloe. Michigan in 2020.
“I was not sure what, but I knew there was just something missing,” pondered McClusky. After connecting to his roots, he knew change was needed and that working remotely for someone else wasn’t the way for him and soon left ISP. James began to develop a business plan with a culturally-rooted perspective and put together everything he learned over his years as a business owner. He wanted to build a strong enough business to solicit jobs coast-to-coast, with employees who had the proper training, certifications, as well as good insurance and all of the benefits a family might need. “A big part of the job, for me, is safety. I want my team members to always be going home to their families,” remarks McClusky on his commitment to doing right by his employees.
McClusky reached out to Sault Tribe Thrive, and within a few months he was registering a new start up Michigan-based business, National Painting Contractors, Incorporated. Soon thereafter, connections and work within the Sault Tribe community helped McClusky gain the support his business needed to scale quickly. Sault Tribe Thrive connected National Paining Contractors with Darren Osborne, Program Manager with Ponca Economic Development Corporation Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PEDCO PTAC). The two wasted no time, and after three months, National Painting Contractors was awarded its first government contract.
“It’s great to know that there is free business support that can connect you with other viable support networks locally and across the nation. Thank you, just keep doing what you guys are doing,” replies McClusky on the value of connecting with Sault Tribe Thrive. We’d like to congratulate National Painting Contractors on their recent SBA HUBZone certification, further expanding McClusky’s commitment to government contracting nationwide. Additionally, Sault Tribe Thrive would like to thank James McClusky for sharing his story with us, our tribal business support program’s strength and value comes from the stories of entrepreneurship inside Indian Country.