Florida Contractor Overcomes “Dark Ages of Women in Construction”


Bonnie Rimel formed her company Bonn-J in 1987, in what she now calls “the dark ages of women in construction.”

It’s not that she needed the challenge at the time. Bonnie already had a career that kept her plenty busy, managing 85 W.E. Walker stores, which she describes as “mini Walmarts.” 

But she heard about MSE walls – mechanically stabilized earth retaining walls -- and that they were newly approved by the Florida Department of Transportation. “It was a great opportunity,” she says. “No one else was doing it. I wanted to be the MSE wall builder of Florida.”

The good news was that Bonn-J quickly got a job. The bad news was due to unforeseen difficulties it didn’t start for three years. 

In the meantime, she did anything she could to make the business viable. “I was fortunate to find a crane operator and find some miscellaneous concrete work,” Bonnie says. “We did fence, rebar, really anything we could do.”

While waiting for that first job to materialize, Bonnie was able to showcase MSE walls on another highway project. “Nobody knew anything about the system,” she says, “but they saw I knew what I was doing. I gained two other contracts just from that one job. They were my salvation.”

In 2009, when she got what she calls her “ultimate job,” a $40 million contract on I-595 in Fort Lauderdale, Bonnie decided to brand the equipment on that job with a unique color: pink. It was also in honor of a friend with breast cancer.

Her fleet’s color attracted press. “Our guys were asked what they thought about operating a pink machine,” Bonnie says. “They’d joke about it and say they weren’t going to do it, but they loved it because they got a lot of attention.”

And the pink equipment came in handy on the massive $1.8 billion project. With crews scattered throughout the 10.5-mile site, “we were working sometimes in 12 places at the same time, but I could always easily find my men,” she says.

Bonnie is well-known through her work with the Florida Transportation Builders Association, where she has served as chair and spearheaded an annual golf tournament that has funded almost $1.1 million in scholarships since 2009. 

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“You won’t find a business owner more dedicated to the overall good of our industry,” says Jeff Mairs with Davis Construction. “I believe others can learn from Bonnie’s tenacity.”

Today, Bonn-J has annual revenues of $11 million to $13 million and builds MSE walls in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

So to learn more about 2023 Contractor of the Year finalist Bonn-J Contracting and its approach to marketing and industry involvement, check out the video above. 

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Bonnie Rimel (00:06):

My name is Bonnie Rimel. The name of the company is Bonn-J Contracting, Inc of Florida. So therefore, I am known as B.J. A lot of people call me B.J. or Ms. Bonn-J. I was established in 1987 in the dark ages of women being in construction.


There was a new system coming into the state of Florida which was MSE walls, which is mechanical stabilized earth walls. I wanted to be the MSE wall builder of Florida.


I got my first job, but that job did not start for three years because of a lot of unforeseen conditions. And so in that time, I had to do anything I could. And I was fortunate enough to find an operator that could operate a crane where I could do some miscellaneous concrete work. But he was a great asset in the field. There wasn't anybody that didn't like him, and if there was a problem, he was at that site.


You can't be a success without your people. And these girls that work in the office here are my real strong support.


When I got this big job on I-595, I decided I'm buying a larger fleet. And I'm buying it new, and I'm having it all painted pink.


I was branding that job. It was my ultimate, it was a $40 million job. And we were to start in October, and that was Breast Cancer Awareness. And my friend had breast cancer, so it was a twofold thing.


We would be working in four or five places at a time. I couldn't find my men. I could with the pink equipment. So there's a lot, lot of coordination that has to be done. And we have to have all four of our pieces of equipment within that area. You've got a lot going on.


And I love being active in FTBA. I'm just fortunate that I know the people I know and the people that surround me. I don't have power. I have relationship.

Speaker 2 (03:12):

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