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Fairbank Construction: Building ‘cool stuff’ for 35 years

Tad and Sally Fairbank of Fairbank ContructionThe construction industry is slowly turning the corner, and when things kick into high gear, Fairbank Construction Co. wants to be ready. Earlier this year, the company opened an office in Seattle and owner Tad Fairbank expects to add 15 people to the existing 60-employee base by the end of the year.

“Residential is seeing the biggest growth. We work with 25 architects and all are busy — this is all happening in the past six months to a year,” he said. “We’re feeling pretty good.”

Feeling so good, that the timing felt right to add a Seattle office, which has 15 people on site. The company had an office there for a few years during the boom of the early 2000s. “We’ve worked with architects in Seattle over the years and they’ve all encouraged us to open an office there (again),” Fairbank said. “As we saw the market churn, we decided to do it.”

Fairbank Construction has stayed busy through the downturn, thanks in part to its ability to anticipate the market and stay nimble. Eight years ago, Fairbank Special Services was added to offer work on smaller projects and remodels, along with maintenance contracts.

“It was market demand. For years, we turned down smaller projects,” Fairbank said. “From a business standpoint, we felt if the market slowed down, we could have the team do smaller projects.”

The plan has worked well — when both the residential and commercial markets came to a halt, Fairbank Special Services continued to stay busy with everything from deck additions and small kitchen remodels to specialized garages and indoor tennis courts.

Fairbank is not new to the construction industry cycles. He launched his company 35 years ago in Snohomish County to build homes, after teaching at a small college for several years. With the help of a pickup truck, a Skil saw, some hand tools and a friend as an occasional helper, he worked on his first project during the evening while still working for another contractor during the day. It didn’t take long to add a full-time employee, then another, and eventually Fairbank Construction expanded into commercial projects and had work in six counties.

Bainbridge Island became the new home both for Fairbank and his business in 1982 — a “lifestyle choice,” he said. Since then, the company has built hundreds of homes along with medical clinics, banks, condominiums, churches and unique projects such as St. Cecilia’s Faith Education Building and the waterfowl rehabilitation facility for West Sound Wildlife Center, both on Bainbridge. Current commercial projects include the Kitsap Community Resources’ housing complex adjacent to its new Port Orchard center, also built by Fairbank, and Pleasant Beach Village, a multi-use project that’s entering its second phase in the Lynwood neighborhood of Bainbridge Island. The company will also break ground in the fall on the new Salvation Army Bremerton headquarters.

What ties them all together is the philosophy best summed up in the company motto: “We build cool stuff.”

“Regardless of what we’re building and the size of the project, the idea of building cool stuff gives them (the employees) a passion so it’s more than just a job,” Fairbank said. “It’s an attitude these guys have. For clients, a project is a big investment and they need to know we’re excited about it, whether it’s a deck or a home.”

The philosophy almost becomes a lifestyle itself. Fairbank said many employees are friends who do things together on the weekends, and the company looks for people who share certain values when hiring new staff. There’s even a personality test as part of the hiring process. But don’t expect to find a corporate atmosphere when you visit. In fact, you may spot Fairbank walking around in jeans and sandals. Or perhaps you’ll get a glimpse of the nine-hole putting course in the office.

Fairbank Construction Co. (www.fairbankconstruction.com) is a family business that includes Fairbank’s wife, Sally, his son and his stepson. Fairbank is positioning the company for the next generation of leadership.

“The goal is to have the company develop and mature so the next wave of leadership steps in,” he said. “I’d like to see the company continue on long after I’m gone, so my focus is to position the company for that.”

Fairbank has seen big changes in the industry in the last few decades — including technology that’s allowed the ability to seamlessly integrate a second office — but he said one aspect hasn’t changed at all.

“It’s still about building relationships with clients,” he said. “Many of my clients are good friends now. It’s still very exciting to me — they come in with their dreams and to walk them through the process of fulfilling those dreams is very exciting.”

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