- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) - When Ken Gunter took over FBi Construction in 1985, he had one simple goal.

“To survive,” he said.

There was very little value in what was formerly known as Florence Builders - founded in 1982 - when Gunter got the name and took the reins.

“I had done primarily the commercial and industrial market and that’s what I went after,” he said.

Gunter is a 69-year-old Sumter native who grew up in Marion.

Architect and good friend Munford ‘Monk’ Fuller “just gave me a start,” Gunter said.

“And I did other projects - I did everything myself as much as I could,” he said. “I had a used pickup truck and worked out of the truck.”

His home was his office for the first six months.

“I had to turn off the washing machine when the phone rang,” he recalled, laughing.

Three decades later, the general contracting firm has expertise and attendant success in building municipal, financial, health care, educational and religious institutions. FBi Construction has completed plenty of renovations and worked hard to become proficient with environmentally friendly and energy-efficient LEED certification.

The elder Gunter serves as chairman of the company, oldest son Kent is the executive vice president running the coastal office in Conway and his younger brother Kyle is the president at the headquarters in Florence.

They stay busy but remain grounded.

“If you’re just building a building - you know, what is that? It’s really about relationships and providing for families,” said Kyle. “We try to treat people fairly, with integrity and biblical principles and that’s the reason we’ve succeeded - not being perfect but trying to do that.”

His father is proud of the many repeat clients who have had projects completed on time and under budget.

“The Lord has blessed us,” said the elder Gunter.

His son agrees and points to a diverse portfolio.

“I think we’re very broad and that’s helped us in the ups and down of the economy,” Kyle said. “Being diversified has helped us remain strong off the foundation Dad built.”

A Darlington resident for about 45 years, the family patriarch graduated from Marion High School in 1966 and studied briefly at what was then USC-Florence before joining the Navy as a reservist.

His future wife, Jane Hill, wanted to attend the University of South Carolina, and Gunter underwent training in the state capital. As gunfire control technician aboard a destroyer in Mayport, Florida, Gunter learned about radar, analytical computers and how to aim and fire five-inch guns on the ship.

He spent a total of six years in the Navy - two years active duty and four as a reservist before enrolling in Florence-Darlington Tech, where he was voted student body president while earning an associate’s degree in civil engineering.

“It seemed to be the broadest field with a wide range of possibilities,” he said. “And I got hired before I graduated.”

W.C. Logan and Associates brought him on as an assistant superintendent, training for the position above his under the tutelage of a bright gentleman from up north, Ivan Osterhow.

“I found out which end of a shovel to use,” Gunter joked wryly, but really earned a lot of hands-on know-how by watching and working. As a Butler builder franchise, W.C. Logan worked on several pre-engineered projects in Florence.

“The first building we built that I remember was Yahnis Distributors on (North) Schlitz Drive,” he said. A medical facility on Coit Street was another early project he worked on.

After a dozen years at W.C. Logan Associates, the company was bought by a St. Louis firm; Gunter would stay on another two years.

“And then I decided to go into business for myself,” he said.

Florence Builders had to adopt a new moniker to better exemplify a company with growing reach, so Gunter decided upon FBi Construction in 2001, the same year the company established an office in Myrtle Beach.

Soon after they built a facility in Conway, which proved to be a prudent decision, especially following the Great Recession, as other companies pulled up stakes and refocused their efforts.

FBi Construction had continuing work along the coast and continued to land new jobs as the economy picked up steam. It completed YMCAs in Myrtle Beach and Georgetown and built a new terminal at the Myrtle Beach Airport, among many other jobs.

“We saw the market open up and have done quite a few projects down there,” the elder Gunter said.

Kent, 42, is in charge of the company’s coastal efforts and is still recovering from a traumatic car wreck that required over four months in the hospital, his younger brother said.

“He’s learning to walk again. We’re very fortunate he’s still alive. He’s doing well and has a good team in place - a seasoned team,” helping run the office in Conway, Kyle said. “Without a good team we wouldn’t be successful.”

After graduating high school in 1992, Kyle, 41, followed in Kent’s footsteps and became a Citadel Bulldog, earning a civil engineering degree in 1996, a year after his brother had done the same.

“And it had worked well for Dad at that age,” Kyle said. “I’d considered the medical field and got guidance from Dad. I was interested in that type of work so it worked out well.”

Kyle joined Martin Marietta Materials in Raleigh, North Carolina, and got his feet wet training as an aggregate producer, designing machinery destined for quarries, such as crushers, screeners and conveyors.

“I’d set it up in the field and manage it and I learned a lot,” he said.

He became betrothed in 1999, and like his father, married a Darlington resident. His wife, Beth, attended UNC-Pembroke to earn a degree in physical education. She teaches at Carver Elementary.

“She’s a P.E. teacher and full-time mom,” Kyle said.

In December 2000, Kyle joined the family business and had to earn his stripes, just like everyone else.

“I was interested and he (his father) was interested, so it was the right decision,” Kyle said.

The first job he worked on was the First Citizens Bank in Dillon, now a well-known and visible building in that town.

The list of clients they’ve worked for is long. Duke Energy, Otis and Roche Carolina are among the many industrial companies that have sought their expertise.

“Duke Energy has been a very loyal client,” Ken Gunter said.

FBi is licensed in Georgia and North Carolina as well - Ken Gunter said one of the reasons they chose Conway had to do with its proximity to Florence and the Tar Heel State.

About three years ago they opened an office in the Midlands, and have completed jobs in Lugoff, Lexington and Fort Jackson. Construction and renovations of schools, churches - just about every religious institution on Cherokee Road was built by FBi - and financial institutions remain strong facets of their base. Supermarkets and convenience stores are also a steady sector.

Both Kyle and his father credit the seasoned members of their team.

“We have a lot of key people,” Kyle said. “Some worked with Dad at (W.C.) Logan and came here to retire. Without them we couldn’t do what we do.”

His father gives credit to a faith-based approach, which he calls a “driving force.”

Next year they’ll work on fire stations, churches and schools here in Florence and at several points along the coast. Kyle and Ken have put in many hours to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which mandates more documentation and certification.

“I would say we’re very blessed,” Ken Gunter said. “It’s very humbling.”


Information from: Morning News, https://www.scnow.com



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