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Fite Building a Major Player in Growing Tennessee Valley

Tue February 26, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Eric Fleischauer -THE DECATUR DAILY

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) Want a sense of the economic growth areas in North Alabama? Just look for the trailers marking construction sites run by Fite Building Co.

Be warned: They are everywhere.

“There’s plenty of contractors out there,” said owner and president Jack Fite. “We’re just one of them.”

More accurately, 125-employee Fite Building is a major regional player. While making a conscious effort to limit itself to the Tennessee Valley, it is competing with — and beating — some of the largest builders in the nation.

A list of some of its recent and ongoing projects puts Fite’s “aw-shucks” approach in perspective. Some of the highlights:

• System Software Engineering Annex at Redstone Arsenal, $19 million for the first of three phases.

• Air-cargo building and hangar at Huntsville International Airport, $6.5 million.

• Independence Tube building in Decatur, $18 million.

Some of Fite Building’s biggest projects are a demonstration not just of its low bids and financial stability, but of its reputation within the industry.

The Huntsville air-cargo project and the huge Redstone Arsenal building are design-build projects. The owner develops a request for proposal with general specifications, but relies on architects, engineers and builders to form teams and come up with the details and a lump-sum cost.

Fite Building is a popular member of these design-build teams.

Nashville-based Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon asked Fite to help with the airport bid. JH Partners Architecture of Huntsville came to Fite Building on the Redstone bid.

The Redstone project, already huge, is in its first phase. Two more phases are coming, and Fite Building is in an excellent position to be tapped for them.

“The second phase of this project will be coming out the first part of next year,” Fite said. “We hope to get it, too. It would be a duplicate of what we’re doing there now.”

Numerous multimillion-dollar projects coming from a one-owner company in Decatur. How does that happen?

“We’ve been blessed with good people,” Fite said. “Any success we’ve had is attributable to our people. That sounds cliche, but it’s true.”

Fite said his family roots in Decatur’s building community also helped, particularly the efforts of Fite Building’s founder — Jack Fite’s brother — Bob Fite.

“Bob started the company back in 1976,” Jack Fite said. “He established a culture of doing what you say you’re going to do, paying people, establishing good credit.”

Bob Fite is no longer an owner, but he continues to work for the company.

“It’s made it easy for us to grow the company through the years because our family’s been in the lumber business since the 1930s,” Jack Fite said.

Reputation — especially the reputation for paying one’s bills — is everything in the construction business. A contractor who does not pay his subcontractors or cannot finish a project leaves the owner in a mess that is not soon forgotten.

“It hasn’t been as tough a struggle for us as for other people because there were some doors open, and we had a reputation of paying our bills and doing what we say we’re going to do,” Fite explained. “When you have that to build on, it makes it a lot easier. That coupled with good people.”

A decision the Fite brothers made years ago has served, arguably, as a handicap.

“We don’t travel very far,” Fite said. “My brother and I a long time ago made a commitment that we like sleeping at home every night if we can.”

That decision has tied the company to the Tennessee Valley, but it has given it a broader range of expertise than many large builders enjoy.

“To stay close to home, we had to diversify in what we do,” Fite said. “So we’ll do concrete sub work for other companies. We’ll do industrial work, medical, commercial, institutional-type work. We’ll do a lot of different things so we can concentrate on southern Tennessee and North Alabama.”

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