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As a woman in construction, Dawn McIntosh is a rare owner

As a woman in construction, Dawn McIntosh is a rare owner

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Dawn McIntosh

Dawn McIntosh

When Dawn McIntosh became the sole owner of CLE Consulting LLC, a Middleton development firm, she made the move not just for herself or her own career, but also with an eye towards the future of the construction industry and who would be included in that future.

“I’m super excited that I will be able to do this for my clients and to be a role model in this industry,” McIntosh said. “There aren’t many women in the industry.”

McIntosh has worked in construction for over 30 years and had always dreamed about owning her own company. For the past year and a half she has been working closely with Charles Elliott, who founded CLE in 2013. Elliott brings over 50 years of construction business experience and he and McIntosh worked closely while she prepared to run the company as the sole owner.

“This is really a dream come true for me,” McIntosh said. “Passion for design made me want to do it. As a designer you often find yourself designing dream homes for your clients, but then not having control over the building process. I thought what better way to do things than both design houses and build them myself? I wanted to fulfill my clients dreams of building their dream homes but as a designer I couldn’t do that by myself. Now I can.”

Under McIntosh’s leadership, CLE builds homes and condos throughout the Dane County area with a special emphasis on homes for people who are going to be aging in place. According to McIntosh, the largest population of home buyers right now are baby boomers, many of whom want to stay in their own homes as they get older.

“A lot of baby boomers don’t want to go into assisted living,” McIntosh said. “I’ve been able to go in and make them homes that are safe. It’s designed so whoever buys the house can stay and age in the home. It’s just easy-use things. They need wider doorways and walkways, bathrooms with grab bars and easy-reach items. Cabinet handles for people that are designed for people with arthritis. Zero step barriers getting out of the shower or coming into the house from the garage without any steps. Just things to make life easier.”

CLE has over 50 projects underway around Dane County. 

McIntosh is potentially the only woman who is the 100% owner of a construction company in Wisconsin. She sits on the state board for the Wisconsin Builders Association and said, according to rosters of construction owners, she stands alone.

McIntosh said she hopes that being in her position will enable her to help other women break into what has been a very male-dominated field as well as help youth get jobs in the industry.

To that end, McIntosh started the Women in Construction industry group in Dane County. The group started with only eight members in 2017 but now has grown to over 60.

“The construction industry is really booming and there is so much opportunity for women to join the skilled trades, especially here in Dane County,” McIntosh said. “I created this group so women in the industry had access to high-quality opportunities to network and learn from each other. It’s a group that’s affiliated with Madison Builders. We’re about to join with the Milwaukee Builders and become part of the National Builders Association. This will give women more resources.”

McIntosh is also focused on providing youth with opportunities to break into different fields in the construction and development industry. Skilled trades like plumbing, siding, roofing and electricity have not been the focus in schools, McIntosh said.

“There aren’t many women in this industry but I also want to get more youth involved,” McIntosh said. “The apprenticeship programs for electricians or plumbers often pay the apprentices to learn the trade and that’s a big deal compared to kids who go through four-year colleges. Many of them end up with all this debt and still don’t know what they want to do.”

McIntosh served on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity for six years and said that experience helped shape where she is now. She is in the process of hiring staff for CLE and has approximately 60 contractors working with her across the county, many of whom she has worked with for over a decade. But, for her, it all goes back to volunteering with Habitat. 

“In 1999, I moved to Madison from Indianapolis and I didn’t know anyone here,” she said. “I joined Habitat for Humanity as a volunteer and around that time they did their first women’s build. Since then I have just volunteered and worked my way up. I was on the first international trip Habitat for Humanity of Dane County took seven years ago. That was just the experience of a lifetime. We went to El Salvador. We built two homes in ten days basically using our bare hands. That really opened my eyes to Habitat for Humanity. Now, if I do a remodel, the things I tear down aren’t going to a landfill, they’re going to Habitat. So I think I’ve come full circle. Every opportunity I have to salvage something through Habitat’s restore, I send it in.”

Later this month, McIntosh will travel to Las Vegas to take part in the International Builders Show. The event features vendors showing the latest resources and technologies in the industry and also will provide educational opportunities. McIntosh will participate in meetings for professional women who are in the construction business.

“To get around a bunch of other people doing your same passion is great,” McIntosh said. “Follow your passion is what I tell people to do. So if you have a dream or passion, don’t let yourself think you can’t do it. If you have a passion for it, it will come full circle for you. I’m one of those lucky people who lives their passion every day. I don’t feel like I work!”

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