As development continues in Sevier County, this Seymour contractor is thriving
If you’re looking for evidence of a slowdown in the housing market, don’t go to Sevier County in eastern Tennessee. Contrary to some economic reports nationwide, development has continued at a healthy pace, and Clifton Construction Inc. has been among the companies helping it grow.
“The last five years, we haven’t been able to build subdivisions fast enough,” said Clifton Construction President Doug Clifton. “Sevier County is one of the fastest-growing areas of the state. People just keep coming here.”
That’s meant plenty of opportunities for Clifton Construction. The Seymour-based company does site work, equally divided, Clifton said, between large commercial projects and new subdivisions or condominium complexes.
“We come in on a new subdivision, do all the earthwork, install the utilities and do the backfill and cleanup,” Clifton explained. “The only thing we’ll sub out is the paving.”
It’s a tradition of business that began with Clifton’s grandfather, Fred Clifton, who founded a small grading company. Clifton’s father, Crisso Clifton, took over the operation when Fred passed away, and in 1988, Doug Clifton bought out his father after attending the University of Tennessee.
While officially retired, Crisso Clifton still offers advice and will even help out by jumping on a machine from time to time. Doug’s wife, Lori, manages the office while Judy Atkins handles much of the paperwork. In addition, Boo Clark and Brent Mingle are foremen who play important roles in the success of the company.
But in the early days of his ownership, Doug Clifton said success was measured on a much smaller scale. “My first year out, I think we grossed about $88,000,” he recalled. “This year we will do better than 30 times that. We’ve been given a lot of opportunities because we do good work.”
The spike in growth began around 1996, when Clifton Construction started picking up more jobs and buying more equipment. Clifton said a subdivision project in Seymour is what got the ball rolling.
“I had two or three guys working with me at that time,” Clifton recalled. “Once we finished that project, it kind of broke the ground for us. We had to rent some machines to do that job. It was an opportunity to see what we could accomplish. We saw the potential for building subdivisions.”
Since then, Clifton Construction has done site work for several McDonald’s restaurants and Food City grocery stores, while growing to about 20 employees. Clifton said his company hasn’t had to go far from its home in Seymour for most of its jobs.
“As we completed larger projects, we gained invaluable exposure,” Clifton observed. “This has allowed us to grow at a healthy pace.”
Those bigger jobs forced Clifton Construction to expand its fleet of heavy equipment with assistance from Power Equipment and Sales Representative Lin Davidson. Its Komatsu machinery includes two D65 dozers, a D61 dozer, a PC200LC excavator, a PC220LC excavator and a PC228USLC excavator.
“When we started out, we were renting Komatsu equipment,” Clifton remembered. “Our operators really liked the way they operate. They’re simple, fast and powerful. We couldn’t say that about some of the other equipment we had rented.”
“They’re one of the best machines I’ve run and I’ve been on just about everything,” asserted Clifton Operator Mike Sandifer. “They’re really comfortable to run and they’re much smoother than other machines.”
Clifton said Komatsu equipment durability is also a major benefit. “One of our Komatsu machines has more than 9,000 hours on it and has never had a major breakdown, pump problem or engine problem,” he added. “As long as we keep them serviced and take care of them, they keep working for us.”
Sold on service
When his Komatsu machines are in need of service, Clifton said the response of Service Manager Alvin Hayes and others at Power Equipment has been second-to-none. “If we ever have a machine go down, Alvin is always there,” Clifton said. “If something has us stumped, I can call him, and 90 percent of the time he can pinpoint the source of the problem over the phone.”
Finding work for those machines in recent years hasn’t been a problem for Clifton Construction. Clifton said the 2005 hurricane season helped to elevate eastern Tennessee as an attractive alternative to living on the Gulf Coast, and the steady growth has continued.
Clifton said he doesn’t foresee a significant spike in growth for Clifton Construction until perhaps his school-age children get a little older. But for now, he said there are plenty of opportunities to keep him busy.
“I believe the repeat business we’ve had shows that people are pleased with our work,” he said. “Once customers call us to do a project and get to know me and my company, they stick with us because we do good work.”