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News Venture Local series focuses on construction industry

Finds it to be a building block for Franklin’s economy

As part of the Venture Local Franklin (VLF) initiative, Macon County News is teaming up with VLF to highlight local businesses throughout Franklin. Each week, MCN will select locally owned and operated businesses in a different industry ranging from retail to tourism, to manufacturing. It is our goal at MCN to work with VLF to encourage residents to shop locally and utilize the resources Franklin has to offer.

One of the industries hit the hardest by the recession was construction. Across the nation, when the economy began to plummet in 2006, construction projects came to a screeching halt, family businesses were forced to close and thousands of workers were laid off.

By 2010, North Carolina had reportedly lost 26.9 percent of construction jobs, while across the United States the unemployment rate for construction payroll employees skyrocketed to 25 percent or 2.1 million jobs since the industry peaked in 2006. Across the state, the construction industry had collapsed, but despite enduring nearly six years of the economic downturn, Macon County's construction industry has weathered the storm and is slowly, but surely, beginning to regain momentum.

Franklin residents David and Bonnie Pickartz have made their living on their family owned and operated business Goshen Timber Frames. Goshen’s handy work can be seen all over the U.S.“Over the last few years the construction industry has severely declined, but this year it appears that construction has leveled out and is showing signs of strengthening,” said Macon County Planner Matt Mason. “We have seen commercial construction begin increasing and it appears to be very strong. There are seven new commercial projects that are permitted and several projects that should be finalized before the end of the year. There are currently 24 additional commercial projects that involve renovation, additions, and other smaller scale projects.”

According to Mason, Macon County currently has six construction projects that are ongoing which include, a commercial produce stand in Otto; Ferrell Gas Bulk Storage Facility on Industrial Park Road; the new Walmart facility and two additional mercantile buildings;Town of Franklin’s Wastewater Treatment facility; an Auction Barn located near Franklin Lanes and a large renovation project at Ulco Bluff Apartments.

Mason, who works in the county's Planning, Permitting and Development Department, stated that the permits on file in the county's office are a mixture of commercial and residential. “From researching the issued permits, there are a mixed variety of contractors currently applying for commercial and residential construction permits,” said Mason. “Most of the contractors working on projects in Macon County or have applied to begin working are local businesses.”

According to Mason, compared to the last two years, Macon County has issued more permits in 2012. “This year has been a slow, but stronger year for Macon County,” said Mason. “We have seen a trend where homeowners are either renovating their existing homes, or adding additions. In 2010 and 2011 we saw very minimal new construction of any type. From April to the present we have seen a rise in construction activity for new residential construction.”

Franklin residents David and Bonnie Pickartz opened the family owned and operated, Goshen Timber Frames in 1997.

James Pader, owner of Winter Sun Construction, expanded his business during the recession to include Mountain Laurel handrail. Photo of Pader courtesy of Bob Scott“We changed the focus in 1998 and became a design/build company, focusing on working with clients to plan a home that fit their lifestyle and was energy efficient,” said Bonnie Pickartz. “We led the ‘green building’ movement by several years.”

Goshen is a timber frame design/build company. Its handcrafted homes are built using the same techniques that were developed centuries ago. The joinery is the same and many of the tools are the same. While they use power tools for some of the work, chisels and mallets are still tools of the trade used on each timber.

Like so many other construction firms, in order to stay in business, the Pickartz reevaluated their business plan and made changes with the intention of making it through the recession. “We had to step back and tighten up our operation,” said Pickartz. “At the end of the day, we are a more focused company. Because we were always client-centric, we weathered the slow down better than many. Our focus has always been smaller homes and that is a trend that found footing in the new economy.”

According to Pickartz, the past year has shown an improvement in their number of clients. “Business is steady and picking up,” she said. “We've seen clients who have held off because of the slow economy come back into our schedule. This has been a good year for Goshen. We have more than a dozen clients in design and several in the build process.”

Pickartz believes that the industry's turn around is a combination of understanding from the business' perspective as well as the client's. “We definitely see improvements,” she explained. “Consumers are still struggling with home values and construction loans, but they are also more aware of the economies of building smaller and more efficient homes.”

Goshen Timber Frames’ clients, or as the Pickartzes refers to them, their “timber friends,” are predominantly local homeowners adding space to their homes, retirees relocating to this area and the surrounding areas, even municipalities upgrading their facilities. Although Goshen builds nationwide, since the recession hit, the majority of Goshen's business comes from the surrounding states. “Our homes are found from Washington State to Florida and California to New York. In the ‘new economy,’ we're seeing many of our projects in the North Carolina, Georgia, and surrounding states,” said Pickartz.

Although they launched their business before the World Wide Web was a necessity in the business world, the Pickartzes picked up on the trend early on and began implementing it in daily business practices. “We understood early on the power of the Internet and were early adopters of the tools offered,” said Pickartz. “This gave us an edge as we moved easily into marketing our homes online. Using social media to promote our trade and writing for online construction blogs and magazines helped to raise awareness of the sustainability and energy efficiency our homes offer.”

Another major aspect of the business that has helped Goshen Timber Frames fare well during the recession is the company's dedication to the local economy. “It is important that each business take steps to utilize local suppliers as much as possible,” said Pickartz. “We always try to source at the smaller, locally owned/operated businesses. Sometimes this isn't possible or feasible, but we take that step first. We're often the first contact that a client has with our community. We refer them to real estate offices, builders, and suppliers who show a commitment to community.”

Like Goshen Timber Frames, Beale Construction, Inc., which has been serving residents in Macon County for more than three decades, have turned to the idea of working with less to stay afloat during the recession.

Beale Construction was first established in 1978 by Ronnie Beale. “Having worked around construction since I was very young, it was natural that construction would be my occupation,” said Beale of his reasoning for starting the company. The family-owned corporation is headed by Beale as the president and Lena (Cissy) Beale as the secretary/ treasurer.

When Beale Construction first began, the company grew steadily each year. With a focus in residential construction, business was so good by 1998, that Beale decided to have the businesses incorporated. “Beale Construction was strictly doing residential for many years beginning in the mid-’90s we began doing more and more commercial projects,” said Beale. “At that time we upgraded our license from residential to an unlimited license, which we still hold today.”

According to Beale, his business has had the advantage over the last six years to be awarded several large-scale projects that have helped support the company's bottom line during the recession. Although Beale Construction has continued catering to the residential market, the last three years have yielded very few new home projects. “We have been fortunate to have had some good projects during this slow down,” said Beale. “These projects have been for the most part commercial and remodeling/repairs.”

Goshen Timber Frames constructed the pavilion located at the Macon County Recreation Park along the Georgia Road. Photo providedLike so many other locally-owned and locally- grown businesses, Beale Construction has relied on the community and dedication of employees to survive the economy. “We have been very fortunate over the years to have great employees and customers, past and present,” said Beale. “Like many of the other businesses in our area, we have had to learn to work with less overhead but still deliver the highest quality project to product, for our customers.”

With the change in the economy, Beale Construction's target market has also changed. “Our client base for the past few years have been pre-retirees and retirees who have moved or planning to move to our community,” said Beale. “We are seeing a slow but steady return of the residential home building market.”

With the notion that change begins within, Beale Construction, Inc. has continued to make it a point throughout the recession to support the local economy. “We have always had the policy that whenever possible, we purchase all of the materials locally,” said Beale. “We have also always worked local sub-contractors. Venturing local is now more important than ever. We all know that money spent on the local level will turn over at least four or more times at the local level. Beale Construction, Inc. and their dedicated employees look forward to continue to provide excellent service and workmanship to the residents and businesses of Macon County.”

While some construction businesses have waited out the recession storm, others have taken a new approach and altered their business plans entirely. Winter Sun Construction, LLC, which was formed in early 2008, is owned by Franklin resident James Pader. Pader started Winter Sun after achieving his General Contractor’s license with the goal of building and remodeling energy efficient homes.

Pader set out to make sustainable, green building affordable. As a licensed and insured General Contractor, he began specializing in energy efficient and sustainable green home construction and remodeling. Green design services maximize space and reduce waste.

Being one of the first of the trade in Macon County, because of the economy Pader found himself being forced away from his original intention of being a green builder and rethink his business plan.

“Construction on Macon County’s very first third-party certified Healthy Built Home was completed at the end of 2008 and the home was sold before completion through the website www.wintersunllc.com,” said Pader. “This house received a North Carolina Home Builder’s Association STARS Award for Best Affordable Green Home 2009 and was also a finalist for a National Association of Home Builders award. The downturn in the economy led me to rethink my business plan. In 2009, we did quite a few remodels. I also became a certified Federal contractor able to bid on Federal jobs. Winter Sun was a recipient of ARRA funds [aka ‘the stimulus’] and has completed multiple projects for government agencies like the USDA Forest Service.”

In February 2010, Pader received an inquiry through his website from a homeowner in Washington state who was interested in Mountain Laurel Handrails for her home. “About five weeks later, I received another inquiry from Missouri. I recognized an opportunity and started building the website awoodrailing.com which is now my primary source of sales,” said Pader.

Becoming completely reliant on his new business venture as his primary source of sales, Pader has began building his new clientele gaining national recognition. “I love my clients,” said Pader. “People that want Mountain Laurel Handrails know what they want, are excited about my product, and recognize the artistic nature inherent in every handrail section. Pre-assembled railing sections are now available nationwide.”

See next week’s issue for the continuation of the Venture Local series


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