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Real Estate Developer From Nigeria Builds Success, Creates Jobs and Economic Growth in Pittsburgh Region

Emeka Onwugbenu visits one of the houses in Lawrenceville undergoing
renovation  by his company, E Properties & Development, which
has created jobs and other economic benefits in the Pittsburgh region.

By Thomas Buell, Jr.

Many real estate developers can only dream of selling properties before construction has been completed. In Pittsburgh, Emeka Onwugbenu has built a successful business model around that concept, and made it look easy.

His company, E Properties & Development, currently has 10 properties under development throughout the City of Pittsburgh, and every one of them is already under contract for sale. In fact, most of the 16 properties the company has developed in its four-year history have been sold either before groundbreaking or while construction crews were still at work.

Onwugbenu, a native of Nigeria who moved to Pittsburgh seven years ago, attributes his success to a philosophy that it’s important to allow buyers to choose finishes and design touches they want rather than settling for the more generic choices often used in spec homes. And he prices his properties to include a wide range of higher-end options so that buyers know the finished cost of the project.

“Our approach of providing the owners with flexibility in determining the final design of the property has been very well received,” he said. “They are involved in the design process from the early stages, and that allows them to participate in the creative process.”

Onwugbenu came to the United States and earned his bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering at Penn State, and came to Pittsburgh seven years ago to work for MEDRAD Inc, and later obtained an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. In 2009 he founded E Properties & Development.

Since then the company has developed more than $5 million in real estate. The projects are split between high-end renovations of existing homes and  new construction properties. E Properties houses sell between $235,000 to $450,000, with the average price just over $300,000, Onwugbenu said.

Onwugbenu’s company now employs 18 people, about one-third of them full time construction crews, and the rest regular sub-contractors. E Properties has an office staff of three at its office on Butler Street. The company also purchases tens of thousands of dollars in building materials and supplies, and works regularly with real estate agents from RE/MAX, who also benefit when the properties sell.

His success story is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit possessed by many immigrants, and symboizes the benefits they bring to the regional economy.

For those who work with him, Onwugbenu’s success has meant more work, and steadier work.

“It has been good, since we have several projects going at the same time, I have been able to stay busy,” said Bill Welsh, Sr., carpenter and handyman. “Emeka has been good to work with. He tells us what he wants and then he lets us do it.”

Matthew Galluzzo, Executive Director of the Lawrenceville Corp., said Onwugbenu has earned a good reputation among buyers for quality projects and innovative design, including the Croghan’s Edge development, located in the 3600 block of Penn Avenue, which won a 2012 Merit Award from the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It was designed by Pittsburgh-based mossArchitects.

“We didn’t have anything like that in Lawrenceville,” Galluzzo said.

As neighborhoods like Lawrenceville have become more popular among younger, more affluent homeowners, developers like E Properties have been well positioned to achieve success, Galluzzo said. And Onwugbenu has made a good name for himself by connecting with the community.

“As it relates to the community, Emeka has made himself more than available to make sure that the projects he’s doing comport with the neighborhood,” Galluzzo said. “He has done a pretty good job of liaising with the community. It’s good to have developers thinking along those lines and minimizing the community impact.”

One example of the ways E Properties connects with the community is the naming of the Penn Avenue project. After conducting a community contest to find a name for the development, it was named after George Croghan who was a settler in the area in the 1760s.

Onwugbenu’s active and innovative approach to development has caught the attention community leaders.

“When I first met Emeka I was impressed,” said Charles Powell, director of Diversity Affairs and Community Outreach at the Urban Redevelopment Authority of the City of Pittsburgh in an interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier. “I like the quality of his work and his creativity and willingness to do what it takes to make a project work, even if it means using his own resources to move it forward.”

Onwugbenu said Pittsburgh presents many opportunities for those who are willing to work hard and think in new and different ways.

“Pittsburgh is in its third renaissance and this is a good time to be here,” he said. “Great things are happening here. Being on the ground you can see that. People are moving back into the city. It is exciting to see that.”

The New American Entrepreneurs is an occasional series on the GlobalPittsburghNEWS blog featuring foreign-born entrepreneurs who are making their mark in the Pittsburgh region. 

Source: GlobalPittsburgh.com

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