Utility Contractor Accreditation Validates the Mission of Minority-Owned ClearWay Industries

The ClearWay crew. Percy Caraballo says that what distinguishes his ROW- clearance company from others is its flexibility in being able to position people around the country at the drop of a hat. Photos courtesy of ClearWay Industries.

For first-generation Cuban-American Percy Caraballo, building his small landscaping business into a nationwide right-of-way (ROW) management company has been a decades-long mission. The owner of ClearWay Industries, LLC – a six-year TCIA member company that recently earned its Utility Contractor Accreditation – also has made it his life’s work to further the careers of minority workers in the tree care industry. ClearWay is a Certified New York State Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and a Certified NYS Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE).

Percy Caraballo

“As a minority-owned company, we aggressively hire minorities and women,” says Caraballo. In fact, he adds that his operations manager is a woman and that the majority of his employees are Hispanic.

Caraballo explains his business philosophy as one born of a less-than-privileged upbringing. “When I was a little kid, we had a lot of hardships,” he notes. “But I don’t dwell on that. I started up in business for myself in Orange County, New York, in 1989 with a pickup truck, a chain saw and a wheelbarrow.” He named his first company Cutting Edge Lawn Service and Landscaping.

In 2008, Caraballo changed the name to ClearWay Industries as his company began to be known for its right-of-way clearance solutions. “Our work just evolved as we grew,” Caraballo explains. “A lot of it was based on our reputation for excellence, and the work just sort of came to us. We have always prided ourselves on teamwork, safety and dependability.”

ClearWay employs 154 full-time team members, although Caraballo says that number can fluctuate seasonally. He also says he’s proud of having highly skilled climbers. “We only hire climbers who have three years’ experience,” he notes. “Then we introduce them to ‘Percy’s toolbox.’ Basically, we want them to relearn how to use all the tools we give them so we know they’re working safely. We bring in third-party people like Erick Navarro Palacios (CTSP, TCIA-approved instructor and independent trainer) to teach them, and as they go along, they’re assessed on their training.

“To us, being part of TCIA and having our employees compete (in ISA climbing competitions) is a win-win,” Caraballo adds.

His wife Marlene, who heads up ClearWay’s marketing and HR departments, interjects, “In all these years of developing his business, I’m so proud of Percy and how he treats his employees. Whether Hispanic or not, he treats everyone like family. It’s really rare to have a successful minority employer in this business, one who treats everyone with respect, and it creates an incredible amount of loyalty.”

“We’ve got the best employees,” Caraballo adds. “You can’t buy passion, you can’t buy loyalty, you can’t buy trust.”

According to Caraballo, the past year has been an extremely challenging one, both for his employees and for him personally. “We just finished up a big job in Kentucky with a company called Southern Disaster Relief,” he says. “It was ice storm related from back in February, specifically cutting trees along power lines and rights of way.”

The Kentucky job was preceded by his most challenging job by far, Caraballo says, which was working the wildfires in Paradise, California, and its surrounding regions. “Our contracts require being away from home for long periods of time,” he notes. “I was there for most of one-and-a-half years. They (his employees) were facing danger and devastation every day, seeing homes and entire communities destroyed. The smell of smoke is constantly in your clothes and hair. The fires burned more than 2.5 million acres.”

Caraballo maintains that what distinguishes his ROW clearance company from others is “our employees and our flexibility in being able to position people around the country. When we get a call, we can drop what we’re doing and be there Monday morning.

The ClearWay fleet. The company employs 154 full-time team members, although that number can fluctuate seasonally.

“We have management offices in both northern and southern California,” he adds. “While we were in California, an ice storm hit in New York. We were able to fly a crew out on the red eye at midnight and have them at JFK by 7 a.m. the next morning.”

Marlene adds, “Unlike some of the huge companies, our smaller size actually helps us move more quickly, I think. And I personally feel that our people are so ready, willing and able to move quickly because of the kind of person Percy is.”

“It’s important to get there and get your flag in the ground,” says Caraballo. “The client sees that we have knowledgeable folks on the ground and that more are coming, and that helps establish us.”

A ClearWay climber. “We have always prided ourselves on teamwork, safety and dependability,” says Percy Caraballo.

When it came time to consider Utility Contractor Accreditation, Caraballo says he didn’t hesitate. “I thought it was the most professional thing I could ever do,” he notes. “It was another way to add credibility to the company and distinguish myself from the other companies. I really wanted to make sure we were doing everything right and exceeding industry standards.”

Caraballo adds that ClearWay has always had to meet stringent safety and compliance standards, so most of those items were easy to check off during Accreditation. “Our safety processes have always exceeded government guidelines, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol. It’s not like we do hazard work every once in awhile – we’re doing this work every day!

“We had just a few small things to correct,” he continues, “like some containers in the yard that needed to be labeled. Our employees know it’s antifreeze or oil, but they needed to be labeled so anyone coming into the yard also knows what they are.”

When asked what he learned from the process, Caraballo says with a laugh, “I learned that we’re really, really good compared to everyone else, and that’s being humble! We have the people who can do the tough stuff!”

“Percy has big clients, and they want to see that he’s accredited,” Marlene adds. “It legitimizes him – it’s third-party proof that he’s crossing his t’s and dotting his i’s. And it shows his commitment to the industry and his employees, and that we’re here for the long term.”

Knowing how much Accreditation will help ClearWay Industries, Caraballo says, “I believe 110% that Accreditation should be part of the bid process. Workers are killed all too often in our industry in California. Accreditation would help that incredibly. That’s why I recommend it for everybody.”

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