Friday, April 22, 2016

TOP STORY >> Bonding 50 years

Leader staff writer

Fifty years ago, Tommy Bond started his consulting engineering company in an old ordnance plant shed next to a small airfield off Gregory Street in Jacksonville.

“It took a lot of cleaning and fixing up,” Bond recalled.

“My dad, cousin and I each put $500 to start the company in 1966,” said Bond, who had moved back home from West Memphis. “I was working for the city of West Memphis, which was one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, but so was Jacksonville.”

In Jacksonville, some of his high school buddies like Tommy Dupree were into construction and development, “so I thought I could get some work,” Bond said.

Bond added that he was working for a consulting engineer and thought he’d be part of that firm. “But he kinda let me know that I wasn’t part of the plan. But then I thought, ‘Well, if I’m bringing in work for him, I can bring in work for me.’”

Two years later, Bond built a new building for his fledgling business over on School Drive. “It’s still there as a Head Start facility now,” he said.

“I was fortunate that an old friend, Pete Smith with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was requiring every county in Arkansas to complete a water-sewer study. Since there are 75 counties in the state, he thought if I tried I might get a few counties. I got seven. Had to go city council meetings in each of the counties in a month’s time to talk to mayors and aldermen about the study,” Bond recalled.

He said the plans cost the counties between $20,000 and $30,000. “A lot of money back then. But it gave us some money, and I used it to buy out my cousin, and when my dad died, I inherited the rest of the company and have been sole owner ever since.”

Bond admits that, like some other firms in the area, he considered sharing the company by giving employees shares. “But giving stock is a misrepresentation, plus I’ve found employees would rather have money,” he said.

Bond Engineering is now one of the premier consulting firms in the state. How did it happen? By Bond following the advice he got years ago—a crop grows best in the shadow of the landlord. He has his survey crews come in at 7 a.m., the office crew at 8 a.m.

“We do that because the survey crews do like to jabber so we get them in and out into the field,” he quipped. And Bond comes in with the surveyors and stays until the last employee goes home.

His son, Will, one of Bond’s three children, said, “If I had to say one thing that my Dad has taught me that might be more important than any other lesson I have learned from him is the importance of hard work. I don’t think he said that to us so much—we just watched him do it. Leading by example. I am proud of growing up the son of a small business owner.

“Over the years we’ve worked all over the state,” Tommy Bond said, “but as I’ve gotten older I’ve pulled in and done less chasing. Once we worked two almost identical projects, one in Denning (Franklin County) and one here in town and charged about the same but after recovering the cost of going back and forth to Denning it was like we were just giving the money back to them.”

“Most of our business now is word of mouth,” he said.

But business has not always been strong or booming for Bond. “In the 1980s, we had no business. Those were the years when interest rates hit 20 percent or more. First thing to go in a recession is development. The good news is it’s the first thing to bounce back,” he explained.

He also said there’s less work now.

“It’s hard in Jacksonville. There’s very little development. The schools have destroyed our town,” he laments. “The last two or three generations that have gone through will not let their kids go to school here.”

He hopes the new school district will break the chain, but he knows it will take a few years.

It was his wife, Pat, who helped pass legislation when she was a sate representative that allowed Jacksonville to form its own school district.

“But her being a state representative, let’s just say it wasn’t my idea,” he said, laughing. Bond said former Rep. Mike Wilson was term limited and asked Pat if she was interested. “She’s always been involved in the community and everyone knew her and education was one of her passions.”

Bond and his firm have had a hand in most of the major projects in the Jacksonville area and have worked on hundreds of developments and projects through the years. His top three accomplishments, according to Bond, are the Lonoke-White Water Project, the Arkansas Game and Fish Sports Shooting Complex in Jacksonville and the drilled wells and water transmission lines from Lonoke to Jacksonville.

“There was a lot of controversy when we did those 40 years ago, and they are still supplying water to Jacksonville, and the last time I looked Lonoke had not become the Sahara Desert as some said would happen,” Bond said of the water project.

The Lonoke-White water project was the firm’s largest in dollars, details and construction. “It assures us of a good water supply and water choices for decades to come. It pumps about 4 million gallons a day and will probably be expanded in about five years. It’s good to have two or three different water sources.”

Bond said the water project was designed to provide an economical supply of water. “When we first started working on the project, we predicted it could provide 1,000 gallons for 75 cents. It’s actually doing it for 69 cents a gallon.”

He said the sports shooting range was most satisfying for him “It was a good project, good for the city and brings people into the area that spend money.”

Interestingly, the range adjoins close to 400 acres of undeveloped land that Bond and his friends hunt in.

Mike Wilson, his hunting buddy, the attorney and former state representative, calls Bond one of the top two or three duck hunters in the state. “I don’t have to tell you who’s No. 1,” laughed Wilson.

Bond, who used to hunt deer, squirrel and just about any other wildlife, focuses mostly on ducks these days. “It’s just Pat and I now, and she’s not real fond of what I shoot and kill. But Wilson, Jim Peacock and others are always willing to take the ducks.”

In fact, Bond said he’s the shooter and Wilson is the caller. “My job is to have plenty of bullets and shoot a lot.”

Bond, who has been married to Pat for 56 years, has three children and five grandchildren, and spends most of his free time now at soccer and baseball games.

Their son, Will, who followed his mother into the state House of Representatives, lettered in baseball at Vanderbilt University. “He’d probably love to be a baseball coach somewhere, except for the pay.”

Will recalled, “My Dad was always supportive of me. He did not like baseball much, and it was my passion. He and Mom came to almost all my games, even though I am sure it felt like punishment to him. It was not uncommon for him to sneak in a nap while sitting in a lawn chair.”

Then he added, “I have been incredibly blessed with great parents. I cannot imagine a better Mom or Dad. I did not work for my Dad at all until the summers after I started college. He made sure that I would always want to go back to school.”

“I worked construction and read water meters for him one summer. He was kind enough to order me long sleeve shirts and long pants as my uniform. When it’s 105 degrees in July, and you’re in long polyester pants and shirts and boots, well, it will get you ready to go back to studying.”

And a good education is important to Will Bond.

“I remember once when I was in college I wanted to drop Western Civilization because it was hard, and I was not doing well. Dropping the class would have caused me to finish the semester with 13 hours instead of 16 hours. His first questions to me was ‘Will they send any of our tuition money back if you are taking fewer hours?’ I said no. He responded that if I dropped that class then as far as he was concerned I was dropping out of school and needed to come home immediately. He made it very clear he was not paying for me to drop classes.”

Trouble was that Will had essentially already told the professor he was dropping and had not completed some of the work—like the all-important midterm. “I knew better than to argue or attempt to negotiate with my Dad. I had to go to the professor and beg for some way to make up anything and everything I had missed. One 30-page research paper later, in addition to a lot of hard studying, and I passed the class,” he recalled.

It made his dad proud.