Pillar of the industry announces his retirement
After 41 years in business, a pillar of the local construction industry will be hanging up his hard hat and focusing his energy on improving his golf game.
“I’m actually a little afraid of retiring,” laughed Jim Aultman this week from his home in Dade City. “Every day for the past 41 years, I’ve gotten up in the morning to run out of the house to a job site. I’m not sure how I’m going to like retirement, but I’m going to give it a shot.”
Fellow Middle Keys business owner Sharon Bossert said she and her husband, Michael, have not only been nearly lifelong friends to Jim and his wife, Pat, but they were also clients.
“We always said when we got the chance to build a home that we wanted Jimmy to be in charge of the job,” the Keys Boat Works owner noted. “He built our home for us three years ago, so we’re glad he didn’t retire before we had the chance to make that dream a reality.”
Photos of the landmark homes Aultman has constructed over the past four decades line the walls of his office that now seem like a museum preserving the monuments of this work. The lights in the building he constructed in 1986 will go dark at the end of this month, and the building will be up for sale.
Lower Keys contractor Dave Tuttle said upon getting word of Jimmy’s retirement, he admitted to being a bit taken aback by the news.
“When I first heard he was retiring, I thought, ‘Well, here’s a pillar of the industry who builds high-end houses, and now he’s retiring.’ To me, it was pretty rattling,” Tuttle noted. “He’s been a great asset to the construction industry since he was a charter member of the Florida Keys Contractor’s Association.”
In the beginning…
Aultman first came to the Keys in 1956 from north Florida. His father was a carpenter by trade, and he came to Monroe County in search of work to support his family.
“There wasn’t even a paved road to Key Colony Beach back then,” he reflected.
After two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, Aultman returned to the Keys and began purchasing lots behind the airport and building small duplexes with his brother in law in partnership with BJ Construction.
His brother in law eventually opted to return to plying the waters for a living – he was a fisherman by trade – and Jimmy decided to get his general contractor’s license and open his own shop.
For the next 25 years, Aultman surrounded himself with hard-working men and women to which he credits his success in the business.
His right-hand lady – besides his bride of 40 years, Patricia – Brenda McNalley is only one of three assistants Jim’s had since opening his business. His employees’ staying power is a testament to his work ethic and the level of performance he expects from his employees.
Of the luxurious homes that bear his name, Aultman said he never adopted a particular style but rather an overall business philosophy.
“I was more concerned with putting out a good product at a reasonable price,” he explained. “When the work was completed, I wanted to be able to shake my customer’s hand, remain friends and ensure that they recommend my work to others.”
That was exactly how Jim and Cindy Congelio of Jacksonville built their dream home on Duck Key.
“He is absolutely, in my opinion, the best contractor in all the Keys,” Jim Congelio gushed. “There’s just no other way to describe it.”
The couple, in the business of commercial real estate in the northeast corner of the state, hesitated when they drew up their plans to “build such a large house at such a great distance.”
“We saw a house across the canal from the property that we’d purchased and really like the look,” he continued. “Jimmy hesitated at first when we brought him our plans; he talked about re-working some of the plans, but we finally convinced him. His team and his sub contractors just do such top-notch work. There’s no doubt the Keys have lost probably the best builder.”
Reflections on his influence…
Chris Gratton is currently serving as president of the organization Aultman helped found to provide a unified voice for the local industry.
“He was instrumental in bringing that higher level of craftsmanship to the Keys and keeping the work local, instead of a property owner having to recruit a company to come down from Miami,” Gratton elaborated. “All of his houses are very elegant, and he worked hard to put his name at the top of the list of high end homebuilders.
After the state’s Department of Community Affairs declared the Florida Keys an area of critical concern, seasoned contractors in the business often reminisce on how frequently the regulations changed each week. Many like Gratton and Tuttle credit Aultman for setting the pace for both the industry locally as well as battling bureaucratic red tape.
“He didn’t take any grief from anybody and wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Gratton reflected. “He always fought to get the answer he wanted.”
Gratton concluded that he would miss Aultman and his staff as a resource and wealth of knowledge, adding that he hoped after working for another 15 or 20 years, he’ll also have the same caliber of work on his professional resume.
“I thought he’d retire and hang around the Keys,” Tuttle lamented. “I’m sad to see he won’t be around as a resource for our organization. We all respect him and are going to miss him.”