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Business of the Year: Swank Enterprises

Kalispell-based general contracting firm continues to build multimillion-dollar projects in the Flathead and across the state after 57 years in the business

Walking into Swank Enterprises in Kalispell, it doesn’t take long to realize the name on the sign isn’t just a brand, it isn’t just a company sigil – it’s a family.

Inside the building you’ll find at least half a dozen Swanks of various generations, all working to build on more than 50 years of general contracting in the state of Montana.

“My parents (Dean and Barb Swank) started this business in 1960, and we’re still a family-owned business,” Derek Swank, executive vice president and project manager, said. “The accounting department’s headquarters are still in Valier.”

Valier, a small ranching town east of the divide, is where Dean Swank started up his contracting business in his father’s lumberyard, DeVoe’s Builder Service. From there, the business has grown to include more than 300 personnel across the state, with offices in Kalispell, Missoula, where they’ve constructed buildings on the University of Montana campus, and Billings, where they’re rebuilding the Yellowstone County Detention Center.

Swank also has a presence in Butte, having done about $50 million on the water and sewage treatment facilities there. The company also built the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls.

The 190,000-square-foot pediatric center at Kalispell Regional Healthcare. Courtesy rendering

About one-third of those employees are in the Flathead, and the monthly payroll for this area runs about $700,000 a month. The entire business does between $120 million and $130 million in work volume each year.

Swank Enterprises has had its name included on dozens of major projects in the Flathead Valley, most recently on the hospital campus at Kalispell Regional Medical Center where the company has done at least $75 million in work in the last two years.

“They began to want to expand the hospital significantly in the late ‘90s,” said Dewey Swank, executive vice president at Swank Enterprises. “Our first project was 20 years ago, replacing the central plant.”

Since then, Swank has built the $42 million surgical services tower, a $14 million expansion and renovation of the emergency services department, the new $12.9 million Digestive Health Institute, and has broken ground on the Montana Children’s Medical Center, a 190,000-square-foot, $39 million facility that will put the Flathead’s medical services on the map for pediatric care.

“The Children’s Center will probably be one of the most spectacular buildings in Kalispell,” Derek Swank said.

“It’s just endless up there,” said Leaann Noffsinger, project manager assistant at the company for 17 years.

Those are a few of the major projects, and Swank also handles the smaller renovations at the hospital, clocking another $500,000 to $2 million in projects, according to Kalispell City Planning Director Tom Jentz.

In his 34 years on the job, Jentz said he’s seen the name Swank slide across his desk more times that he can remember.

“They are one of the heavy hitters, they do most of the commercial activities we see coming through,” Jentz said. “They’ve settled into the hospital, I’ve been watching them at the hospital for 18 years.”

Superintendent Jeff Mow speaks during a celebration of the rehabilitation efforts at Many Glacier Hotel earlier this year. Beacon File Photo

Derek Swank said much of their success with the hospital is due to former CEO Velinda Stevens’ progressive vision of what the medical campus could be. Stevens passed away in January after a battle with cancer.

“Velinda was an amazing lady, and she gets most of the credit,” Derek Swank said.

Another major Swank project catching eyes in Kalispell is the new student housing on Flathead Valley Community College’s campus, as well as the major expansions at Immanuel Lutheran Communities just up the hill from the college.

Swank built most of the buildings on the college campus, including the original structures in the late 1980s. Dean Swank opened up an office in Kalispell, and won the bid for another of the business’ first major projects: Edgerton Elementary School. Since then, the business has touched nearly every school in the county for various projects.

The company did the work on both high schools, including Glacier High School’s construction a decade ago. Shawn Baker, a project manager with Swank for 17 years, said he talked to his kids about the high school project when they first earned the bid.

“I came home and told my toddlers I was building the school they were going to go to,” Baker said. “My daughter asked if we were putting in a playground.”

Now his kids are in high school, and the school administration still jokes about how there is yet to be a playground on the campus, Baker said.

Historical preservation and renovation is one aspect of Swank Enterprises that doesn’t get as much notoriety as the commercial branch but is just as important in the eyes of the Swank family.

The company completed the renovations at the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, and has done multiple projects for the buildings in Yellowstone National Park, including a few of building seasons near Old Faithful.

“Historic renovation is a really big deal,” Dewey Swank said. “It’s highly technical.”

Founders Hall, the new student housing facility at Flathead Valley Community College. Beacon File Photo

Swank Enterprises built the original Black Star Brewery, Dewey Swank said, the topic of which prompted his niece and Derek’s daughter, Jacquie Foster (née Swank), to remember receiving Black Star T-shirts while attending college. Foster now works for Swank Enterprises as an accountant, though she started answering phones there at about age 13.

Her brother, Jeff Swank, works as a project manager – “I started swinging hammers at 15,” Jeff remembered – and the company also employs Derek’s wife Rene Swank. Dean and Barb’s daughter, Traci Miller, still manages DeVoe’s Builder Services.

At this point, Swank Enterprises has no official expansion plans; Dewey and Derek said they grow as the economy does, making their business sustainable. And though many construction firms and contractors across the valley are having trouble keeping general workers on staff, Swank’s employees are a solid core group that can work quickly and efficiently, Dewey Swank said.

That makes finding new projects a continuous goal, because the company – and the Swank family – feel a responsibility to keep providing work for their faithful employees, he added.

“We try very hard to run our business like a family, and we treat our employees like that, we treat our subcontractors like that,” Derek Swank said.

Dewey Swank said they work on about 28 projects at a time, and have no plans to slow down. Jentz, the city planning director, said one of the most impressive aspects of Swank Enterprises, aside from the sheer volume of work they’ve done, is the fact that they’re still around and thriving, 57 years in.

“They’ve persevered, because you can guarantee on a 10-year cycle we’re going to have a boom and a bust and a boom, and there are companies that get washed out during the busts,” Jentz said. “It’s easy to be successful in the good times and hard to be successful in lean times.”

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