In 1986, Dennis Hunt started Hunt Construction Services in Argyle, N.Y., locally constructing residential and light commercial projects. When Hunt’s daughter, Amie, was old enough to get her work permit, she started working in the office with her mother, Cindy Hunt. She also spent evenings working alongside her father, watching and asking questions, learning how to read plans and skills needed in the building industry. Now, Amie Gonzales is President of Hunt Companies, Inc. (HCI) and has received several awards and recognition for her work leading that company.
After high school, Gonzales received an Associate’s Degree in Photographic Technology from Herkimer Community College. She returned to the family business. managing more minor projects. She was approached by an Army recruiter. After some thought, she enlisted in the Navy, where her father had served. She wanted the challenge that the service would bring. “I understood that they need to break you to build you up. I had always wondered if I could do it,” she says.
As a Mass Communications Specialist, Gonzales managed teams in the daily production of multimedia news stories. Her final deployment involved documenting counter illicit trafficking operations with 25 news stories and over 900 photographs. Her work then being published in more than 12 media outlets within the Department of Defense and external media outlets. While excelling at her position, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree through Excelsior University.
Early in her Naval career, she met and married Juan Gonzales. The couple spent much time apart, with each deployed at different times. After eight years of service, having achieved the rank of First Class Petty Officer, she left to create more stability for her family, which now included a young son, Ethan. They lived in Tampa, Florida, where Juan was stationed. Amie worked remotely for the family business while using the GI Bill to get an MBA in Project Management from Strayer University.
When Juan retired after more than 20 years of service, they decided to move back to Argyle, and both joined the family business. Until then, the company hadn’t had a dedicated Project Manager, with Dennis Hunt doing it all. Juan, who had earned an MBA during active service, and Amie used the skills and knowledge they had gained in the Navy and their studies to put together a plan to move the business into the future more strategically. They created a clear six to seven-year succession plan so her parents could retire, knowing the family business was in good hands.
Gonzales became President and Project Manager, Juan took on the new role of Chief Financial Officer, and her brother, Jason, Vice President and Operations Manager, oversees the team. Their plans for the future include a focus on that team. She said, “Manpower is always the challenge. This industry has a lot of turnover, especially during the pandemic. We have a young group, and we want to take care of who we have. Grow and train, build a team strong enough for the future.”
They now hold an annual forum to review every aspect of the business with the team. The initial meeting was one day, and it now runs for four days and includes expert guest speakers. These sessions are also an opportunity to listen to employee feedback. “We’ve created policies from things we’ve heard. Our employees and their families are important to us, “ said Gonzales. As well as paying significant contributions toward health insurance and 401K savings, “we teach them about the importance of savings and retirement planning.”
While the pandemic heavily impacted the construction industry, HCI only shut down for two months and still paid their employees 40 hours per week and benefits during that time.
By 2015, the business had come to specialize in work for fast food franchises, and in that year, McDonald’s had a change in leadership and put all building projects on hold with little notice. “We had to pivot work into residential, remodel, maintenance and repairs, and look for new customers,”said Gonzales. They started working more with Taco Bell and other fast food franchises as far west as Syracuse. “We needed to get smarter about money and what we do with that. Juan’s ability to compartmentalize makes him a good strategy guy,” says Gonzales. “Long-term planning means stability for the company and its employees, with no layoffs.”
Since 2019, HCI has donated over $205,000.00 to 50+ local organizations. “We do what we can when we can. Community gives us so much. We want to give back where we work and where our team lives,” says Gonzales. Support for veterans is one of the causes closest to the Gonzales’s hearts. “When you leave the service, you need space. There are programs to help those coming out. Some are stubborn and don’t want to ask for help, but are more willing when it comes from another veteran.” Gonzales is the Second Vice Commander of the Argyle American Legion Post 1518, is active in the Queensbury VFW Auxiliary, and had the honor to co-host the Department of New York Gold Star Mother’s annual memorial service at the Strand Theater during their 86th Convention earlier this year. She also serves as Advisor for the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce Veteran Business Network.
Amie also stresses the importance of continuing education. “There is no age limit to learn. Community college is a big source for that,” she says. She currently sits on the SUNY Adirondack Board of Trustees as a Vice Chair (2020-present), is the Chair of the SUNY Adirondack Audit & Finance Committee, Chair of the SUNY Adirondack Trusteeship Committee, and is a member of the SUNY Adirondack Personnel Committee. In addition to the degrees she earned, she received a Women in Leadership Certificate from Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business and a Certificate in Business Strategy from Cornell’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management. Amie is also a 2019 graduate of the Association of General Contractors, Future Construction Leaders of New York State program.
HCI received the 2018 Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award. Amie has also received several awards in her own right. Family is the key to success. “We have the strength and stability of a corporation with the heart and feel of a family business.” One might think that working together can strain a marriage. “Being in the service early in our relationship, we spent so much time apart, so we appreciate our time together. We are as much alike as we are different.”
Gonzales offers three essential pieces of advice for other women in business.
“Always be willing to ask for advice. You don’t always need to go through it the hard way. Someone already has, and you can learn from them. Chambers of Commerce are there to help women and vets. Attend when you can, soak up the information, and make connections.”
“Self-doubt holds you back. I still have those moments, but I push through them. Girls and boys should learn this in school.”
“You can lead and still have a heart. I am a heart-led leader.”
Find more information on Hunt Companies, Inc. at www.huntcompanies.net.