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Greenfire bets big on the construction industry

Nate Keller (from left), Kip Ritchie and Brian Kraus. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Nate Keller (from left), Kip Ritchie and Brian Kraus. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Greenfire was born of the Forest County Potawatomi Community’s desire to diversify the tribe’s business so it wouldn’t be completely reliant on its success in the gambling industry. Until the late 1980s, the Community had been among the poorest of Wisconsin’s 11 Native American tribes, and it didn’t want its progress tied to the fate of one enterprise.

In 2010, the tribe decided to start a construction-management firm, the first to be minority-owned in the Greater Milwaukee area. Greenfire Management Services wanted to succeed in the market while also helping with the tribe’s construction endeavors.

The firm has since helped complete a variety of projects, including the Milwaukee Urology Specialists at Mayfair Crossing, renovations within historical structures such as the Pritzlaff Building and multi-family residences like the Echelon Apartments at UW-Milwaukee’s Innovation Campus.

At the same time, Greenfire also worked on projects for the tribe, such as its renewable-generation biodigester plant, the Woodlands School and the Potawatomi Hotel expansion.

Between 2014 and last year, Greenfire’s sales more than quadrupled, going from $17.8 million to $82.9 million.

“Most important is being able to demonstrate to the marketplace that Greenfire has the capabilities and the strength within our team to really tackle many diverse projects,” said Kip Ritchie, Greenfire president. “We’ll take a look at just about everything.”

On projects that are too big for Greenfire’s staff of 26, the firm works with other companies.

In the coming decade, when the market is likely to see a slowdown in the construction of residential buildings, Greenfire is preparing for greater demand for senior living centers, health-care centers, schools and industrial and commercial buildings.

Given its status as a minority-owned business, Greenfire tries to pay this forward by supporting the work of other minority-owned subcontractors. Greenfire doesn’t perform construction work itself, which it says leads to better pricing and savings for owners.

The firm also hopes to hire more Native Americans; there are now two on its staff, including Ritchie, a member of the Forest County Potawatomi.

Meanwhile, between the end of this year and the beginning of 2018, Greenfire is planning to start a youth-mentorship program at the Milwaukee Christian Center. The program aims to provide on-the-job training to young people who are interested in construction-related work.

“Get some of the kids involved with some of our projects or subcontractors so that they can start to build some expertise in the trades, because there is a huge demand right now,” Ritchie said, citing tradespeople like carpenters, masons and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning electricians.

Contributing to the growth of the greater Milwaukee community, Ritchie said, goes hand-in-hand with Greenfire’s mission to support the development of the Forest County Potawatomi Community.

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