ACE Midwest, LLC — Parkville

How does a cable cross the road?

red pyramid shape on blue stars with navy background with words ACE Midwest, LLCIt’s not a joke to Steve Arnold, vice president, registered communications distribution designer and outside plant specialist with ACE Midwest, LLC, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business in Parkville specializing in telecommunications design and installation.

It’s reality. ACE designs and installs fiber cables for the Army, Veterans Administration (VA), the University of Kansas, University of Missouri and other institutions scattered across the Midwest as far south as New Orleans. To cross a road, there are two choices: aerial or underground. If requested, Steve’s brother and the firm’s president Ernest and his crews will install the necessary poles, cable and hardware for an aerial installation. If an aerial installation isn’t possible because of distance or other prohibitive factors, the crews place the fiber cables underground by trenching or using boring equipment. The brothers share certain responsibilities: Ernest handles finance and logistics, Steve covers the design and bid preparation.

But even well-dug underground cables aren’t safe from backhoes and other digging equipment.

Luckily, ACE has a solution for that, too: fiber rings, circular patterns of fiber-optic cables that transmit data and information at very high speeds over short distances. Fiber rings are gaining in popularity across the globe. ACE’s fiber rings come in one side of a facility and out the other so if a cable is severed, the network can still operate. Alliant Techsystems (ATK) Small Caliber Systems, operator of the sprawling Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, is one of the firms’ more notable clients who use a fiber ring. That they are a military supplier is a plus.

Because serving the military is in the family’s blood.

“They all went off to serve — cousins, uncles, brothers, everybody was military,” says Steve. Steve earned a degree in business administration from the University of Missouri then founded and ran his own telecomm firm for 35 years. One older brother rose through the Air Force ranks and is now a Pentagon contractor with the highest level of security clearance, a cousin rose to become commander of Rosecrans Field in St. Joseph, another became a colonel, yet another a helicopter pilot.

Ernest joined the National Guard in the 1960s and was stationed in Louisiana. When Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast and New Orleans with wind speeds of up to 190 miles per hour in August 1969, President Nixon called out the Guard to help. In a natural disaster, the Guard is charged with helping survivors as best they can.

It wasn’t just survivors they had to deal with.

Camille claimed an estimated 259 lives. “And part of the Guard’s responsibilities was to treat the dead gently, with respect,” which, Steve says, Ernest did. In the course of this grueling and horrific duty, he contracted spinal meningitis. On the flight back home to Missouri, Ernest’s temperature spiked and if there hadn’t been a doctor on board, he would have died.

But Ernest doesn’t have a lot of quit in him, and transitioned to teaching at the college level then working for the EPA as a forensic accountant. This is a highly specialized occupation involving as much detective work as accountancy. A forensic accountant drills into records and ownership to, in Ernest’s case, unmask the individuals responsible for serious pollution.

“Sure, he still struggles,” says Steve. “But it’s managed pretty well with medication. In fact, he is down on the job site right now. He’s very hands-on and likes to be out with the crews.”

Ernest retired from federal service in 2006, ironically spending the last eight months of his federal career back on the Gulf Coast dealing with the aftermaths of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He didn’t stay retired for long, however. Steve felt he would be a valuable ally in telecommunications.

The brothers then contacted the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and Donna Leonard, now director of the Mid-America Trade Adjustment Assistance Center in Blue Springs. She’s been very ably succeeded by Michelle “Shelly” Cunningham, procurement director for the Kansas City region. Leonard then Cunningham guided the brothers through the intricacies of becoming certified as a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business with the government. Such certification provides small businesses better access to capital and bidding for government contracts, among other benefits.

“We got a lot of help, invaluable help, right from the start,” says Steve. He says Leonard and Cunningham also helped them identify effective search criteria and access a comprehensive bid-matching databank, then coached them on making good impressions on potential clients and gave them leads for valuable contracts.

One of the firm’s biggest early opportunities was upgrading the private branch exchange of the VA in Muskogee, Okla., a contract worth nearly $2.5 million. A subsequent VA telephone installation project in southern Louisiana was even larger. And Steve says that ACE today continues to receive daily notifications of bidding opportunities through PTAC’s bid matching software and other databases using key words than can be dauntingly complex or as simple as wireless, fiber optic and telephone.

And while revenues have not bounced back to late 2000s levels, Steve says, the firm’s fortunes have turned around, and ACE’s nearly 20 employees, more than half of whom are veterans, are busy installing cables in VA hospitals and clinics in Columbia, Poplar Bluff and Kansas City. ACE is dedicated to hiring qualified veterans and has joined, an online job board for veterans, among other veteran advocate groups.

“We have rebounded from that slow period nicely,” says Steve. “We’re proud to have done that, proud to serve the communications needs of veterans and their families in VA hospitals and proud that veterans do the work, too. We have an old-fashioned, conservative viewpoint of patriotism. To us, it means supporting our vets.”

PTAC continues to be instrumental in helping him do so, he says. “They [PTAC] provide us with regular, daily opportunities to bid on. It has helped us tremendously, allowed us to get the right kind of award in the right place at the right time.

“They are just really good people. Donna was so wonderful and Shelly stepped right in, kept things moving. We’re very grateful.”

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