Sarasota Small Business of the Year Awards: Willis A. Smith Construction Inc.

 
 

WINNER

Willis A. Smith Construction owners didn’t just want to tell their clients about the benefits of green building, they wanted to show them. So, they constructed one of the greenest buildings in the state — their headquarters.

The company moved into the building in January 2009 and became the first Florida contracting company to build, own and occupy its own green headquarters.

“We really wanted to make a statement in the community,” says David Sessions, Willis A. Smith president.
At first glance, the building looks like a regular office. But look a little closer, and you’ll notice solar panels on the roof, a cistern that can hold up to 6,000 gallons of rainwater and a landscape full of Florida-friendly plants.

The exterior of the building is also decorated with educational signs containing information about their environmentally friendly landscaping techniques.

Educating the Sarasota community about green construction is a big part of the company’s philosophy. John LaCivita, Willis vice president, received the Leadership Award at the Celebrate Outstanding Leadership Luncheon this year.

“There’s a sense of responsibility,” says Sessions. “Our goal is to try to educate others.”

Willis is currently working on nine green projects, mostly in the government sector. When Sessions became president of the company in 2009, he began to diversify its range of projects to include more government work.

That diversification has enabled the business to flourish during an economy in which construction work in the private sector has decreased. The company made it through the recession without any layoffs.
“If you can diversify and work in both sectors, it tends to help you deal with dramatic swings you might see in the marketplace,” says Sessions.

Willis’ management is also working with Sarasota County commissioners to establish incentives for local businesses and homeowners to employ water-saving techniques.

“There’s a myth about green building that it’s too expensive,” says Sessions. “You can spend a fortune, or you can do it from a business sense and a practical standpoint. We want to show people that.”

AT A GLANCE 

Address: 5001 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Sarasota
Start date: 1972
Number of employees when started: Eight
Number of employees now: 49
Advice: “Support your local organizations and businesses wherever possible.”
Biggest challenge: “Adapting to the ever-changing economy.”
Where do you see your business a year from now? “It’s hard to predict, but we’re fortunate to have some larger projects already planned.”

 

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