Last in a series of stories reprinted from a special edition of Cedar Valley Business Monthly magazine featuring the 2018 Cedar Valley Businesses of the Year.
WATERLOO — Art Carter grew up in Mississippi and attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he was trained as an electrician, before moving his family to Waterloo in 1935. He “moved to Waterloo like many African-American men behind the promises of good-paying jobs,” his son, Derrick Carter, wrote to the Courier. He worked for Rath Packing Co. as a laborer and later at John Deere as a welder.
Ten years later, he began his own electric company in his new town — one of the first African-American-owned businesses in the Cedar Valley and winner of the Diversity Business Award winner as part of The Courier’s 2018 Cedar Valley Business of the Year.
After about 50 years of owning and operating his business, Art Carter died in 1997 and passed the reins to his wife, Dorothy, and son, Derrick, who run the business today.
“Hopefully I can pass this on to my kids, too, if they’re interested, because I’d like it to be around when I’m gone,” Derrick Carter said of the company, Art Carter & Son Electric.
Derrick Carter graduated from West High School, where he participated on the state-winning track team, in 1981. He later graduated from Northeast Iowa Technical Institute in Calmar.
He is on the electric board for the city of Waterloo, was a former board member of the Waterloo Planning and Zoning and Knights of Pythias Lodge and was recognized in 2017 by the Waterloo Homecoming Committee.
“I look back now; I’ve been through the worst of times, the best of times, and it all makes you grow as an individual,” he said.
Being part of the community is one of the cornerstones to success for Derrick Carter.
“Without your community, to me, you’re no one,” he said.
Derrick Carter and his company proudly donate on a regular basis to the Cedar Valley Food Bank, Club Les Dames, Jesse Cosby Center, Dan Gable Wrestling Hall of Fame and several churches, including Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist, Payne A.M.E. and Antioch Baptist Church.
“You need to know who your neighbors are. ... It might just be for something simple to help them shovel their driveway or take their trash out,” he said.
Derrick Carter performs all of the company’s jobs himself, with an office at his parents’ home.
“My dad always worked out of the home. He never had a shop or anything; this was always home and the office too and that’s what I carried on,” he said.
The business does residential and light commercial electrical work.
“It’s waking up and having different aspects to look forward to. It’s the same application, but different scenario. And it’s a challenge. I like a challenge. That’s what keeps me going,” Derrick Carter said. “I don’t have a huge company but that’s the way I like it. I can get personal instead of just sending someone out to just take care of you.”
His advice to others is don’t give up.
“If we can stick around 30 more years somehow, that would be terrific. One hundred years in business, that would really be something,” he said. “We’re just blessed to be able to continue this on.”