Forest County Potawatomi tribal member Kip Ritchie serves as President of Greenfire Management Services, LLC (Courtesy Greenfire)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is experiencing a building renaissance. Poised to capitalize on this economic boon is Greenfire Management Services, a construction management firm launched by the Potawatomi Business Development Corporation in 2010—the investment division of the Forest County Potawatomi.
For nearly eight years, Greenfire has been blazing trails in the construction sector. Last year, it grabbed the No. 1 spot on the Milwaukee Business Journal’s list of “The Fastest-Growing Firms in Milwaukee,” having earned $145.1 million in revenue in only three years. (Consider that the company earned just $285,000 in its first year of business.)
Greenfire was also named the third largest minority-owned business in Milwaukee, a distinction that is a source of great pride for president Kip Ritchie, an enrolled Potawatomi tribal member.
Ritchie has served in many capacities for the tribe since 1996. “It has been a huge honor and a privilege to work for the tribe in different roles. I consider it a thrill every single day,” Ritchie said. He sat down to talk with Native Business Magazine™ about the company’s past, present and future successes.
NBM: Construction management is a very competitive industry. Why have you been so successful in such a short time, with just under 40 employees?
Ritchie: First off, we could not have done it without the ongoing support of our tribe, the Forest County Potawatomi. They helped us get started early on by handing over big construction projects like its new 19-story hotel, the data center and the expansion of the tribe’s campus in Milwaukee. These projects helped us ride this wave of building and attract top talent and leadership from all over the country. With the strength and knowledge of our top-notch engineers, project managers and superintendents, we have been able to compete really well. The challenge moving forward is to manage our growth and continue to expand our operations, both here in Milwaukee and geographically.
NBM: What sets you apart from your competition?
Ritchie: There are over 25 well-established construction firms in this marketplace, and some have been in business for over 100 years. So you can only imagine the competition here! What sets us apart is our problem-solving skills, dedication to our clients and our transparency. We sit on the same side of the table with our clients, helping them work through their construction plans and projects. In fact, our pre-construction process is second-to-none. We work with clients a year to two years before a shovel even goes into the ground, carefully planning the budget, engineering details and build-out schedule.
NBM: Greenfire has always placed a strong emphasis on diversity in hiring. Why is that?
Ritchie: We are a minority-owned firm, so this philosophy is representative of the tribe. It helps that our offices are in Milwaukee because it is a very diverse city. We believe it is good for all businesses to have a diverse sub-contractor workforce. So supporting other minority-owned business, like ours, is extremely important to both the city of Milwaukee and to the Forest County Potawatomi.
NBM: Now that you are in such demand, how do you decide which projects you will take on?
Ritchie: We really try to be selective. We want to make sure that we can deliver on time and on budget. If we do not think we can be successful, we are very particular because it doesn’t do us any good, or the customer, if we cannot make it a successful project. At the same time, we have to take on some risk. So if we are going to venture into new markets, we need to push ourselves and those boundaries, too.
NBM: Where did the company name “Greenfire” come from?
Ritchie: A major initiative of the tribe in last decade has been to focus on renewable, green energy. We are always concerned about the environment, so we set out to make investments in green energy. The tribe had several solar initiatives called “Project Greenfire.” When we were looking to start the company in 2009, we asked if we could use the name because we liked it so much and it had a nice connection with the tribe.
NBM: What is your next big thing?
Ritchie: Right now, we are working on an $80 million Phase 2 expansion of the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. We are also starting a $38 million multi-family residential project—an apartment building—in Oak Creek, just south of Milwaukee. And we are really excited about opening a new office in Wausau at the end of the summer.