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Tuckahoe Veteran Applies Navy Skills to Business

TUCKAHOE, N.Y. – A Tuckahoe resident who served in the U.S. Navy Reserve for seven years is using what she learned in the service to help grow her contracting business.

Marialisa Zywotchenko, who owns and operates Cyrus Contracting Corp. in Yonkers with her husband, Alex, was a member of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 21, the Seabees “Blackjack Battalion,” based at the Naval Air Engineering Station in Lakehurst, N.J., where she learned many of the skills she now applies to business.

“I learned the classical side of construction through the Navy – it’s called the Navy Seabees ,” she said. “I was an engineering aid. I did a lot of AutoCAD work, though it wasn’t limited to that. We were activated after September 11 and did a lot of building there.”

During her time in the service (2000-06), Zywotchenko learned about being part of a unit, and the importance of collaboration in construction projects. She said that these experiences give her an edge over other contractors who have only known the “dog-eat-dog world of New York.”

“I think (the Navy Reserve) helped me understand the practical side of construction, but you also get a sense of the chain of command,” she said. “There’s a sense of teamwork and a collective group effort that I don’t think I ever got in the private sector. In the Navy we’re a team. Hopefully I carried that over to my business.”

A few weeks ago, Zywotchenko was one of three female veterans out of a group of 40 women to enroll in the Women’s Enterprise Development Center’s 15-week Entrepreneurial Training Program. The three veterans were given scholarships to attend the program, which is teaching them how to better develop business plans to start or expand their small businesses.

“We’ve been in business for a couple of years (since 2009), and didn’t have a business plan in place, and we didn’t have a plan for moving forward and growing,” Zywotchenko said. “That’s where this has been extremely valuable for us. It’s a chance for us to envision the future and where we’re going to go.”

Thirteen weeks into the course, Zywotchenko has – among other things - learned marketing strategies and spoken to accountants, and was taught the loan process. On top of the scholarship, Cyrus Contracting was also selected as one of the winners of a $5,000 grant through the Women’s Enterprise Development Center, which the Zywotchenkos plan to use to promote a new line of cabinets.

“We have an idea to introduce a child-friendly cabinetry line to a store like Home Depot,” she said. “We’d like to get that idea moving, so we’re starting to establish relationships. That $5,000 will give us a boost in the right direction.”

Their plans may have to be put on hold temporarily, as the veteran is eight months pregnant with the couple’s second child. Zywotchenko said she will take it easy for a few weeks after the baby is born, but is anxious to getting back to swinging a hammer.

“I miss working with my hands. I haven’t been able to paint or do demolition, and I do enjoy that stuff. I feel like my business needs me to do that – I’m ready to get back,” she said. “Such great things are on the horizon. I’m really excited about not only working in the business, but working on it and helping us get further along.”

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