A local Black business helping to build the Southeastern San Diego Live Well Center (SLWC)

Courtesy of Mike Norris

Steve Groves and Cliff Smith Jr. have been co-owners of Cats Excavating, a second-generation grading and general engineering company, since 1993. The brothers’ father, Cliff Smith Sr., was an African American serial entrepreneur in an era that was inconducive to being such. Starting with just a skip loader in 1953, Cliff Sr. gradually built up his business.

When Groves and Smith Jr. took over, it was just the two of them working in residential. Today, Cats Excavating has expanded to a team of 30 and focuses on commercial and government work. As it has grown, James Thompson, chief estimator for Cats Excavating, has become part of the family.

Born and raised in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Groves, Smith Jr. and Thompson are proud of the work they have done in their local community. In addition to helping build the Southeastern San Diego Live Well Center (SELWC) project, 30% of Cats’ other work is in the Southeastern community with the remainder spanning projects throughout Southern California. 

As Cats Excavating grew and took on work outside of the community, it maintained its presence in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The firm’s office is located within walking distance from the SELWC jobsite, with the executives living only about two miles away.

Groves, Smith Jr. and Thompson credit relationship building for their continued growth and establishment as a local subcontractor of choice. It would not have been possible, they say, if the company hadn’t demonstrated integrity and pride in ownership.

“Building new relationships is important, and so is holding onto those relationships once you have them,” says Steve. “We do what we say we are going to do, and we will go the extra miles to make sure it’s done right.”

Groves and Smith are continuing their father’s legacy and have high hopes for the third generation.

“Now our kids are involved,” says Cliff. “They are the future. We expect them to be better and stronger than us.”


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