Video: Oregon Contractor “Pays it Forward” as Second-Chance Employer

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Updated May 12, 2023

K&L Industries of Canby, Oregon, is one of the rare companies that believes in giving formerly incarcerated people second chances.

Many of the paving contractor’s 40 employees were once in prison.

In the video above, the owners of the company – Keith Callaway Sr., Lillian Callaway and Keith Callaway Jr. – reveal how they became a second-chance employer and what that has meant for the company as well as the employees they have helped.

Their compassion and efforts to make sure their employees meet their court-enforced responsibilities, as well as accomplish their professional and personal goals, has resulted in low turnover and plenty of job candidates when positions open. But even more, it’s brought them joy in seeing their employees – whom they think of as family members – get back on their feet.

For Keith Jr., who is seven years sober, it’s a chance to pay it forward.

“It gives purpose to the past that I have,” he says. “There's nothing more rewarding than watching someone put their life back together.”

Along with being a second-chance employer, K&L has grown from a struggling mom-and-pop operation to a $15 million company, performing commercial asphalt milling, paving, repair, residential driveway paving, and sealcoating. K&L is also one of Equipment World’s 12 finalists for the 2023 Contractor of the Year award.

Keith Sr. started the company in 1984 after becoming frustrated in a minimum-wage job. In the video, he talks about those early years and the Entrepreneurial Operating System the company uses today to achieve success and grow.

Lillian discusses the importance of running a business out of the home – something she and Keith have done since 1984, while at the same time raising seven children.

And they take the unusual step of organizing annual retreats that involve flying the entire company somewhere to get away for training and fun. “We spend a few dollars on them to put them on an airplane and to treat them well,” Keith Sr. says. “Then they literally produce things that are out of the ordinary.”


The Contractor of the Year program recognizes contractors who display the highest standards of business acumen, equipment management expertise, attention to safety and community involvement. Each year, 12 finalists receive an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to participate in roundtable discussions and an awards ceremony.

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Keith Callaway Sr.: So how we got started. I was in a minimum wage job when we got married. And I knew I could do better than that. I started with a pickup truck with a slide-in dump bed that was electric. And we could haul two tons at a time, which of course is not much. And we did patching. And we did that with a borrowed roller and a bunch of ragtag tools that we either built or got out of my dad's tool shed. So that's kind of how it started.

Lillian Callaway: And having it in our home. Personally, I wouldn't do it any other way. Because our belief is that you're not just a number; you're not an employee. You're a person, a valuable person  and part of our family. When people start, we send them a card that says Welcome to the K&L family. And that's what we truly believe. And family is invited to your home, an open-door policy, and you're part of their lives and you share holidays and events. And so every one of our employees is part of our family, and they are welcome into our home and can come at any time and sit with us.


Keith Callaway Jr.: The experiences growing up inside the family that operates entrepreneurially has really made the decisions as an owner much easier. I understand when I say, this is what we're doing, how it has legs, and it affects other people in other places. And so the consequences of doing something and the consequence of not doing something I understand much more deeply because of how we were raised in the family we were raised in.


Lillian: Because we lived part of a recovery life. And learning that the judicial system is not made to help people feel successful or be successful. Because the requirements they have, you have to leave work for two hours or you can't show up – and all of its short notice. A lot of our employees are felons or have records that have to go report and do tests, and we allow that. They just need to come tell us, and we will make sure it's done and be a part of that, because they need someone. Because we lived it and know what it's like, we can have compassion and walk that road with them to help them have a successful life and see what it's like on the other side, to know that they are valuable and that they can be trusted and that they are worthy of being a person in this society. As long as they are trustworthy, I will trust them. It doesn't matter what their history is. We work with where they're at right now to help them transform their lives to be the best life it can be in the future for where they want to go and the goals they want to set.


Keith Jr.: Well, I'm the originator of the second-chance portion. A little over seven years sober.

Some of the things it's done for me is it's allowed me to pay it forward. It gives purpose to the past that I have. And then there's nothing more rewarding than watching someone put their life back together.


Keith Sr.: it's called EOS Entrepreneurial Operating System.


Lillian: In EOS, you look at your 10-year goal, and then your three-year and your one-year, and then 90 days. So you work in 90-day windows to try and get things done in that accomplishment to get to that 10-year goal. It encourages you to be transparent. So all of our employees know what our gross is. They know where they're going and what we're shooting for. And every week, they get a financial review in their morning meetings, and there's nothing hidden. They're trusted with that information, and they value that.


Keith Sr.: And we, through EOS, developed our core values. Now we understand them very clearly. We talk about them every week. In every one of our meetings, at least one of them comes up. And then basically our mantra of transforming lives one shovel at a time, that comes up constantly.


Keith Jr.: EOS has really given us legs and lanes inside our business. My responsibilities start here and end here. And then I transition it to my dad's responsibility, start here and end here. And Person C’s responsibility starts here and ends here. And EOS has given us the ability to have those lanes in our business, where before we were muddy, it was crossing, and there was just a lot of dissension in how we made decisions. So EOS has given us the ability to have clarity, offer direction to the other people that work for us and really help give the opportunity for everyone in the organization to grow into the next level.


Keith Sr.: We do goal setting. Every year we do a retreat. This year, we will take our entire company to Las Vegas.

It's not just training. There's a lot of fun, and the idea is to be together. To get on an airplane and fly somewhere with our team literally carries them through most of the hard times of the year. Because they realize how important they are to us. We spend a few dollars on them to put them on an airplane and to treat them well. Then they literally produce things that is out of the ordinary.

Lillian: And there have been guys that have never flown before till we flew them. So that’s fun too.