M.F. Smith celebrates 30 years in business
“I was married, had a mort-gage and needed a job,” says Mike Smith of his start in the con-struction business. Now, 30 years later, Smith — owner of the gen-eral contracting firm M.F. Smith Associates — boasts a portfolio of work throughout Rhode Island, from new homes to renovations and everything in between.
Smith moved to Jamestown in 1954 when he was 10. He got his first taste of his future career dur-ing the summers when he worked for local contractor John Rem-bijas, then honed his skills with the E.R. Vieira Company helping to maintain the old Jamestown bridge.
After four years in the Army, Smith joined Campanella Corporation, a former heavy high-way and marine construction company, for whom he helped build the Provincetown breakwa-ter. He returned to Jamestown to form Mid Bay Construction with partner Spencer Dickinson, then two years later, in 1975, he struck out on his own. And he’s been in business ever since.
“Anything people want, we do, as long as it’s legal,” says Smith. But the company’s forte, he says, is additions and remodeling. Those are also the projects he enjoys most.
“There’s a lot of challenge to them,” explains Smith. “You have to make the old fit the new and vice versa.”
As a design/build firm, Smith will work with customers to design a project or build from plans the cus-tomers provide. Major projects, he says, require about six months lead time, but the company can always fit in small jobs. Smith and his team of about three car-penters usually work on three projects at once in various stages of completion: one in design, one in construction, and one in the finish-ing phase.
His greatest satisfaction, he says, results from the process itself. “I enjoy starting out with nothing and turning the space into something people use and enjoy every day.”
And those customers have been as far afield as Little Compton, Western Coventry, North Providence, and Green Hill. But it’s Jamestown that he calls home.
“I can’t walk down a street here without seeing my work,” says Smith.
What does he think when he passes by a building he’s worked on? “I’m proud of it all,” says Smith. But he’s not complacent, noting his outlook on construc-tion mirrors his philosophy about golf. “You always think your next shot is going to be the best one of your life,” explains Smith. “And you always think your next proj-ect will be the best.”
In part, that belief is due to the changes in the industry over the years. The materials have improved, enabling Smith and his team to build a better house today than when he started out. But it’s also because everyday continues to be a learning experience. “When you take apart a 150-year-old house, you learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t,” says Smith.
Smith certainly seems to have gleaned what works for business. About 90 percent of his work is driven by referrals. He credits his reputation to his commitment to methods of construction. And also his integrity. “I believe in honesty in all my dealings,” says Smith. “It’s the basis of all rela-tions.”
Smith’s character served him well when he decided to run for the Jamestown Town Council in 1975. “I felt I could make a dif-ference,” says Smith of his inter-est in the role.
He won a seat and served for four years, during which time the council accomplished a lot — from commissioning and funding construction of a drainage plan for the Jamestown Shores to start-ing the water study group.
“It was very interesting,” says Smith of his service on the town council.
He re-entered town service in 1993 when he began a seven year run as a member of the Jamestown Planning Com-mission. He’s also been in the Lions Club for 30 years and in the Jamestown Community Chorus since 1989. Not surprisingly, what intrigues him about the lat-ter is the process of making some-thing from nothing. “You start out with music you’ve never seen before, and over the course of rehearsals, you think it’s never going to come together,” says Smith. “But in the end, you put on a concert and it sounds pretty good.”
Smith says he’ll probably work another 10 years in con-struction before spending more time on his other passions — travel, golf and reading.