Many immigrants view small business ownership as the epitome of the American Dream. No one knows this better than Brazil native Perlla Deluca.

"If you have a dream and work hard, the opportunity is here for everyone," said Deluca, president of Southeast Constructors, a general contracting firm in Des Moines.

For Deluca, the American Dream became a reality when she was awarded a federal contract for the restoration of President Harry Truman’s home in Independence, Mo. The symbolism was not lost on this dynamic entrepreneur who overcame many obstacles to make it in a male-dominated industry.

After immigrating to South Florida when she was 20, Deluca worked various jobs in the restaurant industry before starting a house-cleaning business. Since she grew up with her father’s construction company, It did not take her long to realize where she could find her real entrepreneurial passion.

So Deluca sold the cleaning business and followed in his footsteps.

Work in the residential construction sector was steady for years due to Florida’s large number of hurricanes. But when the Florida housing market crashed during the last recession, Deluca pivoted and transitioned into public sector work. She fell in love with Iowa when she worked on several flood restoration projects in Cedar Rapids.

After relocating from Fort Lauderdale five years ago, Deluca made the U.S. Small Business Administration one of her first stops. She quickly absorbed every detail of the federal agency’s programs and services, including counseling and training through its resource partners, the Small Business Development Center, SCORE and the Women’s Business Center at the Iowa Center for Economic Success.

Deluca credits her certification in the SBA’s 8(a) government contracting program as a turning point for her small business success. The nine-year business development program expanded her skills and understanding of the federal contracting arena. Thanks to the program’s ongoing 7(j) training opportunities, she has gained expertise in negotiating, bidding, pricing, marketing and financing – key aspects to government contracting. She is certified as a Woman-Owned Small Business and as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise by the Iowa Department of Transportation, and participated in the 8(a) Mentor/Protégé program working alongside Tim McGill, president of McGill Construction in Omaha.

Her awareness of small business resources has come in handy as she grows her business. Over the years she self-financed the business, but the SBA helped her understand her finances better in order to grow her business.

"With the SBA Iowa District Office’s help, I was able to establish my business in Iowa," Deluca said. "Thanks to the 8(a) Program, I am able to compete with larger businesses and perform amazing projects. I am very proud of our work and feel very lucky to be chosen to be a part of it."

Working with a team of five to 10 employees led by her highly skilled project manager Joseph C., Deluca has grown Southeast Constructors' core competencies to include general contracting, site work, concrete parking lots, ADA renovations, demolition and pipe installation, erosion control, painting, building alterations, and heavy construction.

The company’s work is featured in projects throughout Central Iowa and Cedar Rapids, including the resurfacing of the Women of Achievement Bridge, the curbs and sidewalks at Blank Park Zoo, the DART bus stops, the concrete trails in West Des Moines and the post-flooding brick repairs in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Deluca’s company has also worked on projects with the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service and the General Services Administration.

Deluca knows that small business success depends on continuous learning. She recently graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program hosted by Iowa’s community colleges. Working alongside other small business owners, she gained best practices and valuable tools to grow her business.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a major economic impact on American small business. The construction industry has been especially hard hit because of projects being stalled due to the economic uncertainty. Southeast Constructors benefited from an SBA-backed Payroll Protection Program loan through First State Bank in Linville. The funding supports her payroll, utilities and rent expenses during the shutdown, allowing her to hire back staff to work on projects. She continues to bid on contracts anticipating many business opportunities during the economic recovery period.

Deluca believes perseverance keeps her in business — the longer you are in business, the stronger you become. Obstacles are mere learning curves for small business owners. When it comes to adversity, she focuses on the result, always growing and learning as an entrepreneur.

"I really enjoy completing a project and looking at what we accomplished," Deluca said. "Seeing my employees proud of what we delivered — projects that are available to the public and improve our community — is what it is all about."

Despite her success, challenges remain. It is the price entrepreneurs pay for pursuing the American Dream. Perlla Deluca’s drive and determination keep the dream alive and position her to survive and thrive in the coming years.

Jayne Armstrong is the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Iowa District Office with offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The SBA resource network includes 15 Small Business Development Centers, eight SCORE chapters, the Women’s Business Center and the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center servicing Iowa’s small business community. Learn more at www.sba.gov.