SBA honors owners of local firm

Kai Yeh

The owners of a North Charleston construction and engineering firm have taken top honors from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Cyrus Sinor and Kai Yeh, founders of International Public Works on Dorchester Road, are sharing the agency's National Minority Small Business Person of the Year title.

The award recognized their firm's consistent growth and their efforts to reach out to other certified, historically disadvantaged businesses in the Charleston area.

"These business leaders provide innovative products and services to the federal government and commercial market, create jobs and stimulate economic growth," said SBA administrator Karen Mills when presenting the award on Friday.

The company is certified as veteran- and minority-owned. It also is registered as a small business through the SBA.

The firm submitted financial information that shows International Public Works has grown steadily since

2002, when Sinor and Yeh partnered to found the company. It averages about $20 million in annual revenues, which the founders expect to maintain despite the recession.

The firm has done work for a mix of government and private clients. It helped build the new Mount Pleasant Regional Airport terminal, renovate the Veterans Affairs hospital in downtown Charleston and coordinate the painting of The Citadel's career services building.

Especially when working with military clients like the Charleston Naval Weapons Station, Sinor said his company takes extra time to ensure that the drawings submitted match up exactly with what the client wants.

Sometimes, he said, plans do not reflect precisely what a customer wants or needs.

"We understand the final intent of the building," Sinor said. "Even if you follow all the rules, all the specifications, the user isn't happy because it doesn't meet the functionality of the final use."

International Public Works employs 22 workers, a size that Yeh said is to the firm's advantage.

"I've worked for larger businesses. ... I know how they make decisions in a corporate setting. The biggest difference that I feel gives us an advantage is we're nimble. We're flexible."

That flexibility helps the company solve problems and complete jobs more quickly, he added.

Yeh and Sinor also were recognized for passing some of that success on to other small businesses. More than half of the subcontracting work they outsource goes to organizations that either are SBA-certified as small businesses or qualify for minority- or veteran-owned status.