When Theodore (Ted) Frantz and his wife, Barbara, joined hands in 1977 to begin a new construction company in Pittsburgh, they never dreamed the business would still be enjoying vitality and success 40 years later.
Today, TEDCO remains a privately-owned-and-operated business—holding strong to the founding principles of honesty and integrity, outstanding service, a commitment to excellence, and putting customers first. In four decades, TEDCO has completed 1,800 new and renovation construction projects, including educational, healthcare, industrial and religious facilities. Many of the ventures are with loyal customers who keep coming back. Ted, now 85, serves as the company’s chairman. His son, James, is president. When Ted recalls those early days, he says the hardest part was coming up with a name. One day, an architect said to him, “Your name is Ted, so it’s Ted’s Company”—and TEDCO was born.
“Your name is Ted, so it’s Ted’s Company.”
It was that simple. And simplicity is the essence of TEDCO and its founder—a country boy with character, passion, a strong work ethic and a love for his employees and customers.
Ted’s parents, both born and reared in the mountains of West Virginia before marrying and moving to Hopwood, Pennsylvania, only went to the sixth grade. “My parents were good people, wholesome and ethical,” Ted says, qualities integral to TEDCO’s way of doing business.
Ted’s three brothers were much older than he, and two had started their own small businesses. “Dad got his entrepreneurial spirit from his brothers,” says James. He also was inspired by his father-in-law, William “Bill” Minnotte, who ran his own successful steel business. Ted was the first person in his family to go to college—attending West Virginia University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
After college, Ted spent more than a decade gaining invaluable experience working for two Pittsburgh-area commercial general contractors. He did estimating, project management, superintending—a little bit of everything. Some of the companies’ leaders were young—second generation. One day Ted had an epiphany: “I figured if those guys could run a business, I could improve on it and do it on my own.”
“I figured if those guys could run a business, I could improve on it and do it on my own.”
– Ted Frantz
Fearless and ready, Ted and Barbara—both in their forties and with three young children—formed TEDCO in 1977. They leased a small building in Pittsburgh. “He rented a little shack where Potomac Avenue hits Banksville Road,” says James. “I still pass it every day on my way into the city.”
“Ted had a good reputation in the Pittsburgh industry as honest and sincere, and people liked him,”
While Ted ran daily operations, Barbara, who graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School, oversaw the finances. “Ted had a good reputation in the Pittsburgh industry as honest and sincere, and people liked him,” Barbara says. “We brought no work with us from the other companies where Ted worked, so we were starting from scratch with nothing.”
It didn’t take long to find a customer. “The first time Ted estimated something, we got it,” says Barbara. That project was a new building for the Chalfant Volunteer Fire Department at 144 Lynnwood Avenue in East Pittsburgh. The structure still stands strong today.
“University-level construction became our niche—our bread and butter,” says Barbara.
During those early years, TEDCO didn’t choose typical construction jobs—some of them were very small. “The business, from the start, didn’t gear itself to construction in any certain industry,” James says. “Then and now, if we come across a good client, we build whatever they need.” In 1979, TEDCO won the bid for a structure at the University of Pittsburgh, and a company trend was underway.
Ted liked the fact that most of his clients were close by—within a short 15- to 30-minute drive. “We could quickly get to all of the people we were working with, so that made it easy,” he explains.
“When we had a job going, I would swing by to talk to the superintendent and everybody there to see how they were doing. We gave the personal touch—and people appreciated it.”
The company’s growth led to the leasing of a new headquarters in 1980 at Ursula and Greentree roads in Scott Township. Then, in 1985, seeking permanent office and warehouse space, the business moved into its third and current headquarters, also in Scott Township.
TEDCO offers a full array of services—design/bid/build, value engineering, traditional construction delivery, construction management services, and cost estimating. The company’s business footprint extends west to the Ohio line, south to West Virginia University (Ted’s alma mater, where the company has done a lot of business over the years), and east to Maryland, which picks up Deep Creek Lake, a hot market in the early 2000s. “People at that time were putting up condos, and the resort was expanding,” James says. “We were down there for several years, and we will go back if new business comes up.”
At its peak, TEDCO had 25 management professionals and nearly 50 field personnel. Leaner today—yet doing even more volume—the company has 15 office employees and 30 people in the field, including superintendents, carpenters and laborers. The staff increases in the summer, the company’s busiest time of year. “Being a unionized company, we can call the union at any time to request more tradesmen,” James says.
In the early 1990s, when Ted and Barbara were reaching retirement age, they had two main concerns—continuity and commitment. Their daughters, Elisabeth and Leslie, were not interested in carrying on the business. The couple looked to James, who was enrolled at Colorado State University and working on his Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science, with a focus on Construction Management.
“We were afraid he wouldn’t come home after he saw that beautiful campus,” Barbara says. “But he did.”
James graduated and joined TEDCO in 1992, working first as an assistant project engineer and then a senior project manager. He took the reins as president in 2001 and has seen a lot of changes in the industry during his quarter-century tenure. For example, software technology has made the bidding and business process much faster. “The expected time of delivery is faster, faster, faster,” James says. “The architectural industry is very technology oriented with its focus on digital design, so TEDCO had to be as well.”
Safety practices at job sites also have greatly improved. “Tradesmen are much more ready, willing and able to help themselves have a safe workplace,” he says. In addition, the company has welcomed diversity in the field. “We definitely see more women in the industry,” James says. “Fifty years ago, it was unheard of to have a woman in and around the trade industry. Now, it’s very commonplace to see women architects, engineers and tradesman.”
Many challenges have come on James’ watch. “Our industry has become brutally competitive in the past 25 years,” he says. He recalled, in particular, the recession of 1990 and the Great Recession of 2008, which led to the closure of hundreds of construction firms and more than two million people across the nation leaving the commercial construction industry. “Around 2011, people just canceled projects,” James says. “Our bids shriveled up to nothing. We normally had had 8 to 10 projects to bid on every month, but we were down to none.”
Still, TEDCO survived. “We toughed it out and took some losses, and business, once again, is getting better,” he says. As the country finally bounces back, the construction industry—with projects that can take years from start to finish—always lags behind. “We get to the party late,” James says, “but we also leave late. That’s the nature of the business.”
Our motto is ‘Do it once. Do it right.’
“We’ve done well,” James says, “because we’ve been loyal to our employees and customers—and to whatever the customer wants.”
Ted shares some of his secrets to success:
“It takes hard work, and you need to throw away your ego. We don’t waste money, and, most of all, we treat people right—both our customers and personnel.”
Ted is proud of his son and the work he is doing. “James has done a great job. He works hard, has the heart and desire this business requires, and he takes care of his staff and clients.”
The dedication of the TEDCO team is reflected in the many awards they have won. In 1998, TEDCO received the Western Pennsylvania Family Business of the Year Award from the University of Pittsburgh, Katz Graduate School of Business.
In 2006, the company was honored with the Excellence in Safety Award from the Master Builders’ Association. Then, in 2009, Ted was the inaugural recipient of the James Kling Fellowship Award, established by the American Institute of Architects-Master Builders’ Association (AIA-MBA) Joint Committee. The accolade recognizes individuals who best exemplify collaboration between the design and construction professions.