You often hear about successful people who have built their own dreams. Jim Street has become a successful businessman by building other people's dreams for them – from the ground up. In fact the odds are very good that you've seen the work of Jim's company, JA Street & Associates. His buildings are ubiquitous in the region. His is one of those few names that everyone seems to know – and for all the right reasons.
Jim Street's life story is a true rags to riches, hometown boy makes good tale. It's about family, service to others, and the dedication to make his own dream – and the dreams of his own clients and employees – come true.
Street learned early in life the values of hard work and self-sacrifice. Born in Grundy, Virginia, his father, Joe, was a coal miner and his mother, Frankie, a homemaker. Street was the third of eight children – four boys and four girls.
"I had an older sister that basically took care of us," Street remembers. "That was Lois, (Lois Clarke, with the United Company)." The Street family was not wealthy by any means, and Jim learned to appreciate the good things life had to offer.
The older children, Lois, Jim and Joe Gary worked hard to care for themselves and their siblings. When they were old enough to work, Street and his brother began putting their own "sweat equity" into the family. "When we were 12 to 13 years old, we actually cut ‘mine timbers' — we called them props for the mining business," says Street.
Street says he and Joe Gary were hand in hand on everything. "I went to Pikeville College for one year," Street remembers. We shared the days we were in school so we could change out the days we drove the coal truck." Street went to Pikeville, then Clinch Valley College and then transferred to Virginia Tech where he received his degree in civil engineering.
During his time in college, a co-op assignment with the Virginia Department of Highways brought Street to the Tri-Cities. "I was working one quarter, going to school a quarter and got stationed in Bristol one summer and met my wife, Rebecca Kilgore, during that summer." Later he and Rebecca had two wonderful children, Jonathan and April. Today, Jonathan is an attorney in Nashville and April is a kindergarten school teacher.
When he graduated from Virginia Tech, Street went to work for BurWil Construction Company, where he thrived for 13 years, becoming a part owner. "That was a fine company," Street remembers, "but it was a family company and I was never going to be the major stockholder." They talked for a year about the fact that Street was going to leave. At one point they thought they might sell him the company. Instead, Street formed his own company, JA Street & Associates in late 1985. "So my clients came with me and got the same service with a different company name." The company began in the attic of his home and now is a company with annual sales of $100M.
The first big job for JA Street & Associates was for Dr. Doug Weberling in Bristol. His office burned and he needed a building quickly. From there, the firm began working on large jobs for companies that would provide repeat business.
One of the firm's first and most-valued clients was Food City. "At that time they had 13 or 14 stores. The first work we did for them came when the store in Grundy caught fire and they had to close it. We renovated it and put it back in business. That job for Food City led to another in Southwest Virginia – then another in Bristol – and two more in Pikeville, Kentucky. We had jobs with Flavorich, three or four dealerships with Bill Gatton, and worked with Raytheon. Business picked up very quickly - really from day one."
In fact, the Internal Revenue Service audited the firm after three years. "They basically wanted to know how we got so big so fast," says Street. "They thought maybe we were dealing with some people we ought not to be." For the record, they weren't. The growth continued and the work kept pouring in.
In the 20-plus years since JA Street & Associates opened its doors, the company has become one of the most honored in the business. The company has received the General Contractor of the Year Award eight of the last nine years and has received the Circle of Excellence Award the last three years.
And throughout that time, Street has kept one management philosophy a constant: manage from the heart. "You've got to manage people, and if you don't manage from the heart, they've just got a job," says Street. "If you look at their family and their lives and you're actually thinking about them as a person, not as an employee, then you're managing from the heart."
That management style is something Street remembers seeing in his old boss, Bill Burris, Sr., of BurWil Construction. "One day when I was in the Army Reserves, I was supposed to leave early Saturday morning with the troops," he says. "I had a job I had to get out at the last minute so I got excused and he bought me a plane ticket to fly down that afternoon, and then he came in and threw a hundred-dollar bill on my desk. He didn't have to do that, and a hundred-dollar bill was a whole lot in 1973. That hundred-dollar bill bought him millions of dollars in dedication, and I try to do that same thing."
Street also credits the management team at the United Company and Jack Smith of Food City, as people who influenced how he does business. "Herb Hayes from Hayes Plumbing and Heating in Bristol was a great influence. He was in his seventies when I was in my early twenties. He was such a gentleman, polite to all. I saw that people respected that attitude, because it was not just something he did for people who could do something for him."
Street's involvement in the community isn't just relegated to his profession, however. To name a few, he is a past-president of the Bristol Jaycees being named the outstanding president in the state of Virginia, a past-president of the Boys & Girls Club and is a former state coordinator for Boy Scouts. He's an active member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church and has led weeklong mission trips to Costa Rica for the last five years.
He also gets more requests for advice these days, as happens with many JA Business Hall of Fame laureates. Street laughs as he says, "people think I'm smart, but I am simply applying the wisdom I have gathered from others. If you take the time to stop and listen, in many instances you will find yourself taking advantage of the opportunity to learn."