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Major shift

image L-R: Justin Zuckerbrow, Jim Fontaine, Jonathan Gutierrez, Kris Kirby at Gold Creek Homes’ apartment complex construction site.

DALLAS/FT WORTH - Jim Fontaine hadn’t planned to work in construction. For much of his adult life, he used his electrical engineering degree to start product companies that would revolutionize the consumer electronics industry.






    It wasn’t until he saw his dream home’s foundation fail that he learned about the patented process that formed the basis for Tella Firma, which elevates a slab-on-grade foundation above the ground to create a protective void against soil swells, contractions and movement. Tony Childress, the product’s inventor, not only gave Fontaine some sound advice on his home, but also became a good friend who convinced Fontaine to turn the product into a company.
    It appears Fontaine has succeeded.
    “We’ve been doing work for three years now; we actually picked up the technology in early 2015 and continue in our focus,” Fontaine says. “We have doubled our revenue from 2015 to 2016 and in 2016 to 2017. We plan to do the same thing in 2018, so we’re picking up the pace. We have the combination of full-time employees, part-time employ-ees and contractors and have about 40 of those, in addition to crews that we subcontract for installation.”
    Because of its initial growth and success, Fontaine says Tella Firma is in a strong position to expand beyond its Richardson base.
    “We’re continuing our expansion into Austin and San Antonio and now we’re also looking into other parts of Texas, such as Corpus Christi and Houston, and Louisiana,” he says. “Those are the focus of our expansion in 2018.”
    Tella Firma, which counts home-builders Lennar and Meritage Homes as major residential clients, is also transi-tioning to commercial projects such as Kingdom Life Christian Center and Spanish House Immersion School – but not without challenges. Residential customers pay for the premium product knowing that it acts as insurance against future foundation failures. Commercial builders are slower to adopt the technology because they are typically more conservative in adopting new technology and processes. Fontaine, however, is confident that commercial builders will benefit from the product as adoption grows.
    “That’s a market where we can act-ually save them money and construction time without sacrificing quality,” he says. “That’s what we’re seeing – continual adoption on the residential side for us, expansion into other parts of the state and now we’re going to go beyond the state in the expansion into commercial markets.”
     The timing couldn’t be better, especially in North Texas. More people and companies are establishing them-selves outside major cities due to lack of available inner-city property. But Fontaine says undeveloped land is often undeveloped for a reason – with one reason being active soils.
    “We’re actually seeing a higher risk of foundation problems as we build more and more in the area,” he says. “Therefore they are a very good candidate for our product that would eliminate foundation problems in the future.”
    Tella Firma is a construction technology firm in Richardson. –mjm

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Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net