Some folks dream of the bright lights while others will make great sacrifices for the peaceful lifestyle found in a rural community. Traditionally, manufacturers gravitate to industrial centers where they can benefit from the proximity to support services, especially if they plan to export products worldwide. Well, High Country Fusion bucked that paradigm by blending their global business with a small-town atmosphere in rural Fairfield, Idaho.
High Country Fusion was formed in 1994 by Steve Wilson and his step-son, David Hanks, to provide fused high density polyethylene pipe (HDPE) in all shapes and sizes. The two had been working together for a similar company that had been sold, so they decided they would take on a new challenge of starting their own business.
On a vacation in central Idaho, the family fell in love with clean air, recreational opportunities and slower paced lifestyle. So in June of 1994, Wilson and Hanks moved High Country Fusion to Idaho. After a short stay in a small, rented shop in Hailey, the company settled in their current location of Fairfield, Idaho. With the help of an SBA 504 loan, High Country was able to build an 8,000 square foot warehouse and office.
“It was a great decision for us to locate to Fairfield,” said Wilson. “No doubt, the decision went against conventional wisdom, but it really created the ‘How can we work together’ culture that defines our company today.”
In 2003, High Country secured a second SBA 504 loan to expand their Fairfield facility by an additional 5,000 square feet giving them nearly 24,000 square feet of total space. And of course, as the firm’s revenues increased, so did their employment as the High Country’s activities were supported by 18 people.
Although High Country had participated in projects worldwide, the firm’s primary focus had been domestic customers. In 2010, they were invited by an Australian client to open a facility to support the expanding liquefied natural gas industry. Since that time, High Country’s export revenue has increased over tenfold. The company has completed projects in almost every continent and has worked in hard to reach locations such as Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia.
In order to support their rapid export growth, High Country secured an SBA Export Line of Credit in 2012 that allowed them to offer payment terms to international clients.
“We are confident the future is bright at High Country Fusion especially in the area of exporting,” said Wilson. “We have a great team with over 50 employees. When people ask us why we stay in Fairfield, I always offer the same response - because we can.”
Dan Todd has always thrived in a team-oriented atmosphere. At a young age, he was introduced to team sports and his passion for the athletic camaraderie continued into college. At home, his father regularly socialized with fellow small business owners and their conversations would always migrate to ideas of how they might collaborate on various projects. The Todd family regularly vacationed at Henry’s Lake, Idaho to spend time at Henry’s Lake Lodge which was owned by Dan’s parents.
Dan’s family moved to Ketchum, Idaho in 1992. Shortly after their arrival, Dan’s brother and father opened the first Smoky Mountain restaurant as they recognized the need for an affordable family friendly restaurant to serve both visitors and the local clientele of Sun Valley and Ketchum. Due to the hard work of the dedicated team that originated the first Smoky Mountain, the restaurant quickly became a popular local eatery.
In 1995, Dan was completing a Human Resources degree at Boise State University. During his final year of school, he had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for the Small Business Development Center at Boise State. There, he was exposed to the many resources available to support aspiring entrepreneurs as well as existing small businesses in need of counsel. Additionally, Dan was able to network with many of Boise’s finest and successful small business owners.
As Dan approached graduation, the Todd family was in the final stages of preparing to open a second restaurant. In fact, the day Dan graduated from college they opened the second Smoky Mountain restaurant in Boise’s bedroom community of Eagle, Idaho.
“I didn’t have much time to relax and celebrate my graduation,” recalled Dan. “Fortunately, I spent time working at the Sun Valley location so I knew what I was getting into.”
With the support of his family and an amazing team, the Eagle location flourished and the Todd’s set their eye on expansion.
“At our Smoky Mountain restaurants, we strive to create memorable experiences people love. Building long lasting relationships with friends and neighbors within the communities we serve has always been a priority for us,” commented Dan.
As Smoky Mountain continued to grow in popularity, it became apparent to the Todd’s that the family business should be restructured in order to “fine tune” their internal and external business processes. To help with that initaitive Dan turned to SCORE in 2001. One result of this new business alignment was Dan being named the president and CEO of Triple T Enterprises dba Smoky Mountain Pizzeria Grill.
“We were confident our business model was working and we wanted to formalize our company structure by assembling a successful, integrated team of vendors, suppliers, bankers, accountants and designers,” said Dan. “Same with our management team, as many of our key people have been with us for over 15 years.”
As the result of their strong team, Triple T has proved to not only be a survivor of the recent recession but is a unique success story in the restaurant industry which is known for high turnover rates. Through the recession, the Smoky Mountain team worked hard to strengthen their foundation. Due to the experience of the team, strategic management and long term planning through this recessionary period, Triple T was able to expand and take advantage of the current real estate trends. The company has increased staff by opening two new restaurants and hired 49 new employees since 2008. The most recent expansion in Eagle was funded by an SBA 504 loan in 2012 and the new location has been a huge success. Today, the company has grown to include nine restaurants throughout Idaho and Utah with 260 employees.
“Smoky Mountain Pizzeria Grill Restaurant is very proud to have celebrated its 20th year anniversary in 2012. Our partnership with SBA has been critical to our successful growth. We strive to develop long lasting relationships by fostering personal connections with our guests, our employee teams, and business partners like the SBA,” said Dan. “At Smoky Mountain, it’s all about the team.”
Kaleo Nawahine grew up in a very secure home on the Island of Oahu, the son of an educator and a nurse. He spent his youth surrounded by his extended family enjoying all the regular activities available to Hawaiian children. Education was emphasized in his home so there was never any doubt in his mind that upon graduation from high school he would go to college and eventually find a secure job of his own.
Just as he had scripted, the calculating Nawahine earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his master’s in engineering management from Brigham Young University in Utah. Fresh out of college, Kaleo landed his first job as a project manager with a manufacturing company in rural Fruitland, Idaho. After two years, he accepted a position as a project manager with a cement and building materials manufacturer and over the next five years, Kaleo had the opportunity to get acquainted with many of his entrepreneurial clients.
“As I interacted with our customers, I began to notice their quality of life and potential for true financial security. It didn’t take long for me to start reevaluating my personal paradigms regarding risk verses reward,’ stated Kaleo. “I don’t come from an entrepreneurial background, but talking with these folks really opened my eyes to the possibilities outside of the corporate structure.”
Once Nawahine made the decision to move forward, it took less than one week for him to identify a business venture. “My opportunity came in the form of a partnership in an industry I knew nothing about, but I was ready for a change,” said Kaleo. “After working day and night for two years to build this business, we sold it and I basically broke even. It was a very exciting time.”
The lessons Kaleo learned in those two years proved to be invaluable as he went forward. First, he knew he wanted to own another business and second, he would probably be more successful if he worked in an industry where he could take advantage of his education and construction experience.
Once again it didn’t take long for Nawahine to unearth another business venture, buying into a small construction company, Performance System, Inc. (PSI) in 2004. Unlike his previous partnership, this opportunity fit his skill set perfectly.
“Having gone through the process before, it was easy to make the determination to move forward with the purchase,” said Kaleo. “And shortly after buying into the partnership, I ended up acquiring the remaining interest.”
Seeking to find a market niche, Nawahine decided to target municipal and industrial projects since they required technical complexities that would limit the number of competitors. Soon, PSI established a reputation as an excellent general contractor with decent bonding capacity.
Within one year, PSI was awarded State of Idaho contracts and began to pursue federal projects in the local market. It was at this point Kaleo, a native Hawaiian, heard about the SBA 8(a) Business Development program. Although PSI was doing well, Kaleo was intrigued by the business development aspect of the program and was also looking for avenues to open new markets.
Late in 2005, Performance Systems was certified and the firm has grown steadily ever since. “The 8(a) program has helped PSI diversify in the federal marketplace, but we still maintain our core competency in municipal projects in the local area,” noted Kaleo.
Remaining true to the business principles he learned from his previous experiences and his innate analytical nature, Nawahine has steadily grown PSI. Now, along with their company headquarters in Fruitland, Idaho, PSI maintains offices in Washington and Hawaii with 78 employees.
“It’s been a great journey so far. Our offices in Idaho and Washington have been our bread and butter, and it’s exciting to have our operations in Hawaii taking off. I love the Idaho lifestyle, and it’s a great place to raise my family. But, I like supporting the economy in my native Hawaii and look forward to expanding PSI’s presence on the Islands,” concluded Nawahine.
With roots in the pacific and experience from the mainland, the future of Performance Systems seems as bright as the tropical sun.