Kristina Benza is the CEO of County Fabricators in Pleasantville. Adobe Stock / Sasint
Pleasantville’s County Fabricators completed $15 million worth of work for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. The person behind the operation? Thirty-three-year-old Kristina Benza.
A decade ago, Kristina Benza started her own business and became CEO of County Fabricators. It was a 180-degree change from the path she was on as a medical student. The plan after graduating from New York Medical College in Valhalla was to continue on with more medical school, but after taking more time to think about it, she knew it wasn’t the career she imagined for herself.
“I had to tell my parents that everything I had been working for for the first 23 years of my life I no longer wanted,” says Benza. “It was a difficult conversation, but luckily my parents were extremely supportive.”
Launching into a construction career in Westchester
Kristina Benza grew up seeing both her father and uncle in the construction industry as civil contractors and had an understanding of the work. She knew she didn’t want to be out in the field, but she did want to work on the math and engineering side. So, she started by buying some equipment off her family and their businesses, hired one employee, and went from there.
“It was an opportunity to spin off the family business,” notes Benza. “That’s how I ended up in the steel industry.”
Her first purchase order was with the developers of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, officially named the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, for $500 for shim plates. Over the next seven years, it grew into $15 million worth of work with them. Every linear foot of both spans of the bridges and the interiors of all eight towers has a piece of County Fabricators steel installed on it. That catapulted County Fabricators into the industry all over the metropolitan New York area. Benza says it’s “incalculable” how many doors the Tappan Zee Bridge project opened for her company.
Today, County Fabricators has worked with every major construction firm in and around the area and is certified by the American Institute of Field Construction. The company did all of the pedestrian fencing on the Kosciuszko Bridge in Queens, fencing around the Statue of Liberty, and work on the Whitestone Bridge, just to name a few notable projects.
“I’ve tried to grow the business at a very controlled rate,” explains Benza, whose day-to-day job includes giving job estimates, writing proposals, negotiating contracts, executing the work, and handling human resources. “I went from one employee to three to now almost 20.”
Tips for anyone considering getting into the industry
Benza says she absolutely recommends other people consider the construction industry for job opportunities. While some may feel they need to go to college and pursue a four-year degree for a knowledge job, Benza believes that trade school is just as worthwhile.
“I am a huge proponent of trade schools and life experience,” enthuses Benza. “Be a student of life and observe as much as you can about the world around you. The experiences I’ve had are more valuable than any education I ever got out of a book. There’s so much to learn from watching and observing other people.”
She adds that the industry also allows for a lot of flexibility that supports a quality of life where people don’t feel overworked or burnt out.
“Anyone can do it if they want to get involved in the right way,” Benza says.
At the same time, Benza has had to navigate being both young and a woman in an industry that trends toward the opposite demographic. She admits that, while she has experienced ageism and sexism in her career field, she believes her attitude and response to those things have only helped her become a better leader.
“[Discrimination] still exists,” says Benza, who is 33. “There is a certain ‘good ole boys club’ that exists within the construction industry. [It’s] less and less as time goes on, but it’s still there. I will still get confronted with questions like, ‘Can I speak to someone with more experience?’”
Her advice? Roll through it. She knows she has the certifications and credentials and successful projects under her belt to show why she should be heard and trusted within the industry.
“Be confident in yourself,” Benza says. “If you do the work behind the scenes, you have no reason not to be confident in your abilities and knowledge. When you speak from a place of confidence, people listen.”
Above all, she says to follow your passion, even if it calls for a scary change. If she hadn’t made the decision to leave medical school behind, she would’ve never been where she is today.
“Try to do what’s going to make you happy,” Benza concludes. “That isn’t always going to be the most obvious choice for a lot of people, but no one wants to wake up when they’re 50 and be miserable with their life and the way it turned out. I was lucky to realize that in my early 20s.”