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GENERATION NEXT: Construction Companies

Affectionately nicknamed "Tom Thumb" as a toddler, James Wallace "Tommy" Cooper started work in 1964 and founded his own construction company three years later.


Almost 50 years later, Cooper Construction Co. has IMG 0004Tom Cooper, Zach Cooper, Kelly Cooper Ford and Mike Cooper at one of the job sites, the new Boyd Chevrolet dealership. completed more than 1,600 projects.
After the downturn of 2008-11, Cooper saw an increase in construction last year that included industrial, commercial and public work.
"May was the largest month we've had since the spring of 2009," Tom Cooper says. The company completed the Gorges State Park Visitors Center. It is in the process of finishing up a large project at Carolina Village that included a new kitchen and dining room and it is working on the Carolina Village "Main Street" development. It is currently working on Sierra Nevada's rail cargo facility in Fletcher, Fletcher Town Hall and the new Boyd Chevrolet dealership, and has won the contract for the new Hendersonville fire station and the new Hendersonville Co-Op.
Tom's son, Zach, a star quarterback at East Henderson High School (class of 2004), earned a degree in construction science and management from Clemson University. He is certified in energy-saving design and building practices known as LEED, a "green' designation that's in demand.
"It comes with stress but the stress also comes with the blessing of growing up your entire life, you see your dad with a heavy weight on his shoulders and now I understand why," Zach says. "It's always with you and that's the burden you bear."
Family or not, says his daughter, Kelly Ford, business success requires commitment. "You've gotta have a passion for it," she says. A 2000 graduate of EHHS, she earned a degree in business management and accounting from Elon in three years. She's married to Roy Thomas "Trey" Ford III, (EHHS '99) an N.C. State University graduate and project manager for the family company.
Cooper Construction currently has 14-15 projects under way.
"It's kind of an indication that things might be back," Tom says.

Repeat business
Sam Riddle started his home-building company after working as chief appraiser with First Federal Savings & Loan. "I wanted to build for years and my father said, 'If you're ever going to do it you better do it now'," Sam says. When he IMG 0023Andrew and Sam Riddle. plunged in, fellow builders made a prediction. "They told me if you make it five years you would have it made," he says. "So I made it five years and I found out what that meant — too embarrassed to quit."
He never did quit, making it four decades as a custom-home builder and remodeler. "The customer relation is the most rewarding part of it," he says. He estimates that the company has built 85 to 90 homes in Henderson, Buncombe, Transylvania and Polk counties.
The two older boys started a successful logistics company in Greenville, S.C. During College Andrew decided he wanted to follow his father's path. After earning a degree in construction management, he worked in commercial building in Colorado for three years. He came home to the family company in 2003. He got here in time for the boom years and the housing bust that followed.
"The recession has made our family stronger," Sam says. "We have had to achieve success in a sour housing market."
Like a lot of the new generation, Andrew looked at things from a new perspective. He came up with a strategy that helped grow the business as housing starts plunged. "Aging in Place" is a program developed by the National Association of Home Builders and AARP to make homes safer for seniors.
"We're one of three contractors in the county certified to do that," Andrew says. "That's been a good niche for us. It will become a more important part of our business as time goes on." Riddle Construction is busier now. "Two years ago I'd have washed your car," Andrew says. "We had to lay off 20 people in 2008. It's tough."
The loyalty of their customers keeps Riddle Construction going for the next generation.
"The large majority of the calls we get today are customers we've had for 25 or 30 years," Sam says "That's almost unheard of in the construction industry."

Family nails service
Louis Williams came to the U.S. from Poland by way of the port at Galveston because he had a brother in Texas. It was 1907.
WilliamsDanny and Sammy Williams. A born entrepreneur, Williams was an early recycler. He made money collecting liquor bottles in dry counties and selling them to wet counties.
He migrated north to Detroit, where a son, Sammy, was born, and ended up in Asheville. He ran a men's furnishings store on Pack Square until he heard about a town next door that was in the midst of a land boom. He put his money in real estate and lost it all in the Hendersonville land boom crash of the mid 1920s.
"I guess we were fortunate because when the Depression started we were already broke," Sammy Williams says.
Louis Williams & Sons has been passed on through three generations but won't make a fourth. It's now owned by Cason Building Supply, on West King Street in East Flat Rock. (Cason is itself a father-son business. Owner Chip Gould's son Mark has just started working there.)
Sammy's son, Danny, still runs the hardware store, which specializes in hard-to-find tools and parts and is known for its customer service and expertise.
Sammy worked at the store as a youngster; his brother Jake was never involved in it much. The "sons" in the name refers to Sammy and his brother-in-law, Morris Kaplan, who married Sammy's sister Anne after World War II. Williams showed Kaplan a picture of Anne when the two GIs met in radio school in the war.
"I found out he had married my sister by the time I got home," Sammy says.
Danny has spent his whole life amid nuts, bolts and power drills.
"For me it was a fun thing," he says. "I didn't know it was work."
Danny was an early adapter of web marketing. The store's website was one of the first to use the shopping cart feature for online sales. Danny's son, Daniel, the box office manager of the Flat Rock Playhouse, works in the store occasionally.
"He actually does all our IT stuff," Danny says. "I can honestly say I think he learned a lot of his customer service from hanging around the store. That's what he did when he was a kid."
Sammy, 93, still comes in Tuesday and Thursday mornings, to chat with old friends — and escape the cougars at Lake Pointe Landing.
"Last week I sat with three young ladies at dinner and I was the youngest one there," he says.