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Upstarts & Innovators

Hard work, a little luck are key to success
By: Shawn Piatak
Dick Burke, Jr. could be the poster child for the Upstarts & Innovators speakers series.

The 33-year old owner of Richland Township-based D.B. Homes, has lived the philosophy that launched the series–if you can’t find a job in the region, create one.

Burke delivered some of his life story last week to students at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College as part of the Upstarts & Innovators series. The series, sponsored by the Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown Area Regional Industries and the Greater Johnstown Keystone Innovation Zone takes area entrepreneaurs into classrooms in the region to tell their success stories.

Burke explained that he and his wife, Amy, long ago decided they wanted to stay in the region. But after completing his degree in Criminology at Pitt in 1999, Burke found it would be difficult to live in the area and work in his chosen field.

Ideally, Burke said he was seeking employement with federal law enforcement, but there are relatively few of these jobs in the region. He settled on a position as a probation officer in Somerset County, but soon realized it has limited potential.

“I didn’t see much chance for advancement or to grow,” Burke said.

“I loved my job, but it didn’t hold the kind of future I wanted.”

At about the same time, Burke’s father had begun to dabble in the modular business, giving Burke his first exposure to the industry. He quickly realized it might be the opportunity he had been seeking and founded his company in 2000.

Burke and his brother-in-law, Keith Skowron, caught a blessing in disguise when Skowron lost his job in the Pittsburgh area and was seeking to move back to the region. Skowron, now the general manager, worked the business full time while Burke maintained his day job and worked at D.B. Homes during his free time.

The first office was an unmarked, family-owned garage in Dale Borought that offered no parking. It’s a long way from the new showroom, and model home that D.B. Homes now features on Eisenhower Boulevard.

“We got lucky,” Burke said. “First of all, Keith was available. Secondly, we were fortunate that we had some capital to do some advertising and we were able to get our first office space through family for little to no rent.”

It wasn’t entirely luck though. Burke said. He said the good fortune and timing of the business was the result of following a common formula among successful entrepreneurs–recognizing an opportunity when it comes available and being positioned to take advantage.

“I really thought hard about this area and what it was lacking,” Burke said. “There was no one around here doing this. I found a good niche, and that’s what really helped me to succeed.”

One point Burke stressed to the students is that while it can seem that a series of breaks went his way, establishing the company and having continued success isn’t easy. He sid no one should start their own business because they want to be their woen boss or to get rich–they need to be committed to what they’re doing.”

“This is my seventh year in business and I’m still consistenly working 10-hour days, and that doesn’t include the time I put in on weekends,” Burke said. “The misconception is that I have no boss. Every customer is a boss. You really have to have a passion for what you’re doing and be willing to work harder than you’ve ever worked before.”

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