Liseth Velez wanted to be in the military from a very young age. “I came to this country when I was seven, and from the moment that I had any kind of conscious of career or anything like that, I just knew I wanted to join the military.” After completing JROTC Air Force in high school, Velez started her military career as a truck driver with the Army National Guard.
However, “my heart was always with the Air Force,” she says, and she was able to follow her heart and enlist in the Air National Guard in 2012. Little did she know that from 2012 to 2018, she would be cultivating all the trades that would someday prepare her for her next endeavor as owner and founder of LJV Development – a general contractor and construction management company based in Everett, Massachusetts.
“I didn’t have a lot of options at the time,” she explains, “You know, I could either be personnel, which was more admin [work], I could be military police, or I could be an HVAC technician.” Important to her in terms of her military career was that Velez be part of a unit that would be deployable. She shares her reason for this being, “Ever since 9/11 happened, I thought that the best way I could play my part would be for me to be deployed.”
Since HVAC is a deployable trade within the military, coupled with Velez’s growing interest in real estate, the decision was easily made. She says, “I was thinking of getting into investment and multi-family purchases, and so I thought, ‘You know, I should probably know about [the mechanics of] the house.’ I thought HVAC was the best fit. And when you join, you don’t really have a lot of information, you just sign up and you join… so I got to learn a lot about not just mechanics, but also electrical and plumbing because they all tie together.”
During her time in her Air Force unit, Velez was able to travel to places such as Hawaii all the way to Djibouti, Africa. All the while, she cultivated what would later become her company’s values: “When you’re in the Army, you’re always taught that you’re a soldier first. And so, I kind of came with that mindset to the Air Force where I knew I could cross-train, I can pick up some knowledge off of others’ jobs.”
Later on while developing LJV, Velez reflected on her time in the Air Force and the immense training in every aspect of her life she received as part of her participation in the military branch. While working the many trades she learned through HVAC, she remarked on the collectivism required by her unit in order to get any task done. She says, “Originally, I was like I would love to have all these trades be a part of LJV and do training and kind of just basically replicate what I learned in the civil engineering unit. What I didn’t take into consideration at the time was a lot of the costs that are associated with keeping everyone up to date with their skills and certifications.”
It was then that Velez became familiar with ICIC and completed the Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) program in 2019.
“When you come into the corporate world, you realize that things are really expensive, and I think that’s where organizations like ICIC play such a big role [because] they bring people with such valuable information that you don’t necessarily have at the tip of your hands [or] don’t even have the funds for.”
Her work with ICIC helped her home in on her company’s mission and how to quickly turn profits. She says, “We’re still kind of putting the puzzle together, it’s just now instead of me saying, ‘Let me hire people and let’s get them within the LJV umbrella,’ I’m saying, ‘Let’s just hire the companies and get them underneath the LJV umbrella.’”
Combining her foundation with the Air Force with the networking she’s been able to do, Velez expressed gratitude for her experience with ICCC: “It was just a lot of great information that you could apply right away. Even today, I still very much stay in touch with Diego [Portillo Mazal, Director of the ICCC program], and some of the ICIC members. [As a sole proprietor], sometimes it’s hard for you to find a network of people that you can even just ask questions or for guidance. And organizations like ICIC are there for that. I know I can call Diego and [ask for advice] and I can just get the mindset of someone who’s not in my day-to-day.”
Lizeth J. Velez, founder and CEO of LJV Development in Everett, MA, served in the Air National Guard from 2012 to 2018. Learn more about her company and more than 180 veteran-owned small businesses that have participated in ICIC programs in our 2021 #VetBiz directory. link to: https://icic.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ICIC-2021-vetbiz-directory.pdf
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