Fred DeWitt is the president and CEO of a small construction company with big
aspirations. When he says big, DeWitt is not referring to multi-million dollar
commercial construction projects, but rather to leaving a big legacy of helping
young tradesmen build successful careers.
The founder of Jacksonville-based Dakota & Company, DeWitt takes pride in
educating micro businesses, especially those with minority ownership, in the
standard business practices of construction. "So many times we have contact with
tradesmen who are unfamiliar with the way commercial construction is conducted.
We try to educate them on matters like contract terms, proposals and bids,
billing procedures and legal notices so they can protect their interests and
secure opportunities for new business."
This assistance may take the form of helping a young painter, for example, to
develop management skills so he can operate his own business. "So many new micro
businesses are taken advantage of when they first start their business." While
this emphasis on education helps individuals and small trade businesses, there
is also an element of self-interest. "If they have special skills in a craft or
trade, we feel we have an obligation to make sure they survive as a business so
our customers can reap the benefits of their services and expertise."
The desire to educate also extends to some of DeWitt's customers. The company
has handled the construction and remodeling of more than two dozen churches in
Florida. DeWitt has worked with church construction committees to help them
understand the construction process, and how to plan and prepare budgets and
documents for financing.
DeWitt was a relative latecomer to construction. He started his education at
the University of Florida studying design and architecture. "I went as far as I
could with the finances that were available at the time and had to leave to go
He worked preparing technical drawings and designs for architectural and
engineering firms before taking a position with Florida Rock, which offered him
an opportunity to continue his education. He was encouraged to consider UNF and
when he visited the campus he said he knew he wanted to attend the University.
"UNF changed the direction of my career." DeWitt was active in Student
Government as a senator and representative on student-faculty committees. He
graduated with a degree in construction technology in 1980 and established his
own company in 1988.
Today about 90 percent of his work is in commercial construction and
remodeling within a 60 mile radius of Jacksonville. He employs UNF graduates
helping them as they start their career.
When he's not working, DeWitt enjoys golf and spending time with his family.
He has been active in the community helping HabiJax, his church, and serving on
the board of St. Andrews Lighthouse, a non-profit hospitality house providing
temporary, low-cost housing to the visiting family members of patients receiving
local long-term medical care. He and his wife, Judith, are the parents of a
DeWitt is proud of the company he has built, admitting surviving 20 years in
a volatile industry is a major accomplishment in itself. "The loyalty of our
subcontractors and customers is one of the things for which we are most
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