Feller Finch & Associates Marks 40 Years In Business

The 40-year-old Feller Finch & Associates engineering firm is led by Greg Feller, president, and Aaron Feller, vice president. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Drive through any Lucas County housing subdivision and, chances are, the lots, roads and other infrastructure were first drawn up by Feller Finch & Associates.

The Maumee-based engineering firm launched by Don Feller found solid footing in early 1984 and grew with the addition of the late Richard Finch later that year.

Looking back on the past 40 years, Don can easily recall the names of projects including Levis Commons, St. James Woods, Sweet-water and The Quarry, but “it is the people that have made the most impact,” Don said.

“The best part of my career has been working with the clients, the developers, the city council members and administrators … I just enjoy working with people,” said Don, chairman and CEO.

Now that Don is semi-retired, Feller Finch & Associates (FFA) is led in day-to-day operations by his sons Greg, who serves as president, and Aaron, who is vice president of the firm.

Growing up in Bowling Green, Don knew he wanted to become an engineer, but admitted that he wasn’t diligent about studying. 

“I didn’t want to go to college right away, but then in May of my senior year, 50,000 guys a month were being drafted with the war in Vietnam going on,” Don said. He was accepted into The Ohio State University, but was too late to find housing, so he headed to the OSU Lima campus. A decision to move into an apartment with three other guys the second quarter was a recipe for too much partying and too little studying, he said. All three ended up voluntarily joining the military before they were drafted.

“My dad was in the Army Air Corps in World War II, so I joined the Air Force,” Don said of his four-year commitment, including the last year in Vietnam. When he returned home to his wife, Carol – whom he’d married while on leave – Don was finally ready to earn his degree in civil engineering. As he attended classes at The University of Toledo, Don worked part time for what is now DGL Engineering and later joined Poggemeyer for a decade, until deciding to strike out on his own.

“We were just coming out of a recession, and I took any projects that were available,” Don said. “When Dick Finch decided to come on board, he had contacts and we got a lot of subdivision work and established a reputation.”

Often, it would start with the owner of a large parcel approaching FFA with an idea to put in single-family homes or apartments. FFA would look at the lot sizes, the market demand and, starting with a blank sheet of paper, the two would come up with a plan and get it approved.

“Once the layout was approved, we designed the storm drains, the sanitary sewer lines, water lines and streets – all the infrastructure,” Don said. “We’ll get it built, but it’s up to the developers to sell the lots.”

The approval process means that the Fellers need to understand the zoning standards for each of the communities and attend public meetings to answer questions from council or board members – as well as neighbors.

“You’re always going to get people who are opposed to a project. I get it – things are going to change and change can be difficult,” Greg said. “I take pride in preparing our case, doing due diligence to know the concerns ahead of time, and presenting facts and data to the governing board.” 

Only one person showed up at a Monclova Township meeting when Don was working on The Quarry subdivision, but plenty of Quarry and Homestead residents were opposed to the Breckenridge plans, and Breckenridge residents opposed what is now Stoney Creek.

“I always tell people that if the attitude was ‘no more development’ way back when, Toledo would still be three cabins along the river. It’s all based on market demand. It’s growth, and growth goes out-ward,” Don said.

While FFA has designed many subdivisions in the area, the firm also works with the public sector, designing roads and other projects for cities including Rossford, Maumee, Napoleon, Northwood and Sylvania. FFA is also working on plans to turn the former Woodville Mall into a mixed-use development featuring residential, office and retail units.

As president of FFA, Greg said his goal is to take care of clients and employees, while remaining just the right size.

“We’re big enough to take on bigger projects but small enough where we can give our clients that personal service,” he said, adding that staying smaller means avoiding the corporate culture.

One challenge FFA has faced, like other firms, is finding enough engineers. 

“A partnership with The University of Toledo has brought in interns who become future employees, but bigger firms offer more money. Instead, FFA offers a more flexible, relaxed atmosphere where employees are treated like family,” Greg said.

As Don is semi-retired, he’s stepped back from telling his sons how to run the firm.

“If they want advice, they’ll ask for it,” Don said.

Working for the family business wasn’t on Greg’s radar when he was growing up. With a goal of becoming a race car engineer, Greg earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. While still a student in the summer of 1998, he landed a job as a member of Eddie Cheever’s Indy car team. 

“It was a fantastic summer. Team Cheever won the Indy 500, and I got an Indy 500 ring,” he said.

After graduation, Greg worked as an engineer for a small Chicago company that designed and manufactured drive line products for racecars. Early on, the engineering manager left, and Greg took on the role temporarily as a replacement was sought.

“I was two years out of college and I’m running the engineering department. I got more exposure to the business side of things,” he recalled. 

As he was preparing to marry his wife – also a Toledo-area native – Greg decided to take his dad’s offer of working for the family company and being closer to home.

Aaron, nine years younger than Greg, knew early on that he wanted to work for FFA – which he did every summer while earning his engineering degree from The University of Toledo. He graduated in winter 2008, just as the recession hit.

“We laid off a lot of people,” Greg said, explaining that the firm shrunk from 55 to 15 employees but is now at about 25, including surveyors, engineers and designers.

Aaron found his niche in the finance department, eventually taking over as manager. A few years ago, he earned his professional engineering certification as well and began handling engineering projects.

While some family-owned firms experience in-fighting, the Fellers have all gotten along well.

“It’s because we’re easygoing people,” Don said with a smile.

“It’s awesome working with my brother every day,” Greg said. “We’re both rational, reasonable people. In a family business, ego can get in the way, but we don’t have that. We talk things out and do what’s best for the client, the employees and the company.”

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