When Ethan Collier started his first construction job years ago, he asked his boss what he'd have to do to move into that post.
Once Collier had his boss's job, he kept asking his supervisors the same question and eventually rose in the company so that the only person ahead of him was the business owner.
"He said, 'You can't work for me and have my job.' So, I quit and started Collier Construction," Collier said Wednesday after his company won a Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce small business award.
Collier said the split with his old company was amicable, and his former boss eventually came to work for Collier upon retirement.
Now 10 years old, Collier Construction has a focus on green construction, he said.
"Everything we're doing is really geared around environmental, green, sustainable construction," said the Chattanooga native.
Collier said the company has done five Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified projects in the city.
"We're really the first builder in our area to embrace that," he said.
STAYING IN PUBLIC'S VIEW
Chamber small business award winners
Nonprofit of the year
Junior League of Chattanooga
The company, which has 11 employees, generates annual revenues between $5 million and $8 million, Collier said.
He said his company was helped in weathering the economic downturn by hiring a public relations person full-time.
"At the time, we were doing layoffs on the construction side," said the 33-year-old business owner. "I got a lot of opposition to that when I brought [the PR person] on."
But, Collier said, he felt the only way the company would survive was to maintain existing sales.
"We also knew the total pie was going to be getting smaller and we needed our piece to stay the same size if we we're going to grow market share," he said. "We were able to continue to talk about the kinds of projects we were doing and impacting out customers."
Collier said the company spent more on marketing each year during the recession.
"It has been difficult to stomach that from a cash standpoint, but it's why we're in business today and why we've grown our market share by so much," he said.
Looking ahead, Collier said construction is picking up. Architects and engineers are seeing more work, developers are looking at building and banks are lending again, he said.
"We're looking at having a strong year," the business owner said. He wants to do more commercial work in the future.
"Hopefully over the next five years, we'll grow that side of the business to be greater than the residential side," Collier said.
SMALL OUTFITS PRAISED
Tom Edd Wilson, the Chamber's chief executive, said the city is fortunate to have attracted big companies such as Volkswagen and Amazon.
"But ultimately the strength and resilience of our economy rests on the growth and competitiveness of our home-grown companies," he told about 1,100 people at the Chamber meeting.
Other nominees for the Chamber awards were Ribbons & Bows, Oh My!, RiverCity Property Management, InfoSystems, Luken Holdings, CapitalMark Bank & Trust, and Support Seven. Other nonprofit groups cited were Friends of the Festival and the Tennessee Aquarium.