Just Like Starting Over

Donna King knows a thing or two about overcoming life’s obstacles. The animal-trainer-turned-contractor has turned her life around using life’s not-so-pleasant moments as stepping stones to a brighter future.

Donna King returns from speaking at a Leesburg women’s symposium to one of her two Mount Dora offices of The Custom Contracting Corporation, a successful enterprise now in its eighth year.

“My topic at the symposium was ‘Overcoming Obstacles to Grow, Maintain, and Preserve Your Business,’” Donna relates as she heads to her office tucked in the back. “My main point was advocacy for certifications.”

She’d know. She has many to her credit, including being at the healm of a state- and Small Business Administration-certified woman-owned business. She literally worked from the ground up to establish herself professionally in a male-dominated field. She didn’t start out on the path to contracting, though.

Donna once trained exotic animals and was co-owner of Predators Plus, which raised large species animals for educational purposes. She enjoys memories of appearances on television shows, such as Good Morning America with Jack Hanna and Jim Fowler. It was at Predators Plus that she started working on construction projects. She poured concrete slabs and built the animals’ habitats with her own two hands.

When she decided to go into the construction business for herself, she became a laborer to get
hands-on experience in the industry. With experience came the opportunity to get her state-certified building contractor’s license.

“My first job was toting blocks at Trask Construction [in Eustis] as a mason-tender,” Donna recalls. “I used my hips for support. The guys were convinced I’d get hurt, but I wasn’t there for special favors.”

Donna recalls that some men chose to quit rather than take orders from a woman. When she carried blocks like the men, she earned respect but not acceptance. Donna viewed this adversity as a positive.

“I knew the good ol’ boy system was alive and well,” she says with a laugh. “I had to be creative.”

Many women would have given up, but Donna literally built her way up. The job was about financial survival.

“I left my marriage in a crisis situation in 1999 with no viable resumé,” Donna shares. “I had everything materialistically as a wife, but found that’s not what’s important.”

In a little over a year, she earned her state general contractor’s license, along with real estate sales and mortgage broker’s licenses. This was the foundation in her life’s reconstruction.

“I couldn’t afford to activate my contractor’s license,” Donna says. “I was in constant survival mode.”

No longer a survivor but a success, Donna is now compelled to give back to the community, especially through Habit for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

“I got involved with Habitat because I identified with the need,” Donna states. “I’ve been a victim of circumstance and worked hard to become self-sufficient.”

Donna’s own attempts at subsidized housing were circumvented. As a result, she moved 10 times in a little more than two years. She credits her daughters with keeping her focused during those tough times.

Today, she is an advocate for Habitat and points out to local business owners how they can benefit from tax credits when they support the program.

Kelly Pisciotta, development director for Lake-Sumter Habitat, appreciates Donna’s dedication.

“Donna was a huge asset to our Women’s Building Project from the ground to the truss work,” says Kelly. “She did everything from one end to the other.”

Donna’s first residential contract came in 2002 in Howey-in-the-Hills. But it was at a prior job at Tradesman International that Donna was introduced to commercial construction, and that market became the primary focus of The Custom Contracting Corporation.

“We’ve done subcontract work for larger firms and municipalities, such as Florida Public Schools, Lockheed Martin, the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, U.S. Naval Station at Mayport, and The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority,” she says proudly.

Donna built the business successfully with a loyal staff. She is remarried to Dayton King, also a licensed contractor and marketing manager of his wife’s company.

“At first, I was resistant about my wife being the boss,” Dayton admits. “But I was fascinated with an attractive female general contractor. Now we’re like yin and yang.”

“We have complementary professional strengths and weaknesses,” Donna interjects. “Dayton has natural marketing ability.”

The couple describes themselves as the “Brady Bunch” with his two sons, Austin and Sawyer, and Donna’s two daughters, Melanie and Courtney.

Community service has become a family affair, too. In addition to helping other families through
Habitat for Humanity, they are active with the March of Dimes and a burgeoning venture for victims of domestic violence.

“I had a great support system during my difficulties,” Donna expresses. “I’m all about telling others to seek any and every resource. Mentors are essential.”

Though Donna’s no longer carrying concrete, she feels that she carries a burden for others and has dedicated herself to teaching them.

“As long as people believe in themselves and set their mind to what they want, they can do anything,” Donna says. “That’s a good foundation.”

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