Patricia McKinley’s move to Arizona in search of warmer weather has turned into a life full of opportunities and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Patricia McKinley—a former nursing student, wife, and mother of two boys—moved to Arizona from Illinois in search of warmer weather and “something different.”
After the move, she decided on a whim to pursue a construction training program offered through the Arizona Department of Transportation. She now owns a small trucking and transportation company
And, true to her Illinois roots and entrepreneurial spirit, she has also opened a Chicago-style restaurant in Mesa.
After attending ADOT’s On-The-Job Training and completing her commercial driver’s license at Southwest Truck Driving School in Phoenix, which partners with ADOT, she took the leap of starting her own business with her husband in 2016.
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McKinley now has five employees at her Phoenix company, Khavl Transport LLC, and just surpassed the one-year mark at her restaurant, Wide Daddy’s.
McKinley’s accomplishments as a small business owner in her chosen fields are even more impressive, when taken into account that in the construction and trade industry, women and people of color are often disproportionately discriminated against.
But, as a Black woman who now owns and operates two businesses, McKinley said she has not faced any major discrimination in her career and feels supported.
“I’m very much appreciative of every business that wants to work with me, and help me and help other people,” McKinley said.
A Change in Careers
McKinley, originally a nursing student at ITT Technical Institute-Merrillville, was affected by the school’s loss of accreditation and needed somewhere else to go.
As a Chicago native, she was drawn to the warm Arizona weather. Once in the Valley, she started looking for something different—a break from nursing, which she said she found overwhelming and draining.
McKinley came across a flier from the Arizona Department of Transportation that detailed programs and funding for anyone interested in the construction industry.
The same day she called the Workforce Development Center in Phoenix, she was able to make an appointment to get started in ADOT’s On-The-Job-Training Supportive Services Program. She attended her training at Southwest Truck Driving School in Phoenix.
“It was a great experience. They were able to guide [me] and you know, give [me] an opportunity to get a new career and they did just that for me. I followed the plan. I listened to what they told me to do, and it’s been very beneficial to me and my family,” McKinley told The Copper Courier.
ADOT is able to use funding from Federal Highway Administration grants to identify and train people who want to get into the construction field. The agency then partners with different schools, agencies, and private companies to provide training.
David Simmons, ADOT’s On-the-Job-Training Workforce Supportive Services Manager, said he is proud of the work he does now as someone who came from a trade background. He started as a heavy equipment mechanic and was able to provide for himself and his son as a single parent thanks to his vocational training.
“The General Motors Training Center at Glendale Community College was instrumental in continuing my interest and my passion for being a mechanic,” said Simmons, who in turn is now able to help people like McKinley enter the industry through vocational training programs.
Taking the Leap Into Self-Employment
McKinley said she saw a need for transportation with lots of infrastructure improvements happening in the Phoenix-metropolitan area, and she saw an opportunity to get involved.
McKinley and her husband, who was a truck driver for a local company, started their business, Khavl Transport LLC, in 2016. The transport company moves consumer goods and assists with construction projects.
In addition to being a small-business owner, McKinley is a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certified trainer, where she helps others interested in learning how to drive a commercial vehicle prepare for the permit test.
“I work with small businesses and we just network together on how to help other businesses grow and how to help other people grow and learn,” McKinley said. “It’s been a full-circle type of opportunity, being able to help other people as well.”
McKinley plans on finishing her nursing degree at some point, but right now she is on a hiatus.
“I want to complete what I started so many years ago,” she said.
Kept Afloat by Federal Pandemic Relief
When starting her business, everything was new. Not knowing what she would need to start the business was the most difficult part, McKinley said. “If you’re not moving, you’re not making money,” she added.
Khavl Transport wasn’t getting many jobs once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. McKinley learned about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in the news and applied for assistance.
“It was a really easy process. I had to show I had a decline in income and bingo bango, it was pretty easy,” McKinley said. “That helped me keep my doors open.”
The business has continued to grow since 2016. McKinley says they keep busy driving for the county and state, and even offer shuttle services when trucking gets slow to help keep their doors open.
Right now, Khavl Transport employs five people, and has qualified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), helping McKinley find her company more jobs and more opportunities.
And even more opportunities may be on the horizon, as Arizona is set to receive billions of dollars for infrastructure investments from the federal government, including a $5.3 billion grant to invest in road and bridge projects and $884.3 million for transit systems.
A Taste of Chicago
Trucking wasn’t the only industry McKinley decided to venture into.
McKinley opened a restaurant in January of last year called Wide Daddy’s, located at the northeast corner of Lindsay Road and University Drive in Mesa.
It is a Chicago-style eatery where McKinley gives people a new taste of her hometown.
“Anyone who’s gone to Chicago knows we have a great cuisine with different tastes,” McKinley said.
Wide Daddy’s was selected as a tier-two vendor for Super Bowl LVII, on Feb. 12 in Glendale; meaning her business will be there as extra help depending on the demand for food.
“If you want to work, jobs are out there,” Simmons said. “The key is to show up every day with a smile on your face.”