Building Communities on Solid Ground

In Latin their name means “solid ground,” and that’s exactly the type of environment Terra Firma provides for their customers, the broader community and, without a doubt, for their employees.

For much of his life, Marty Ruddy had been working as a contractor on many building and remodeling projects to fill in the time between traveling opportunities, mostly international wilderness trips. Around the time that September 11th happened and international travel was suspended, Ruddy decided to get more serious and consistent about his work. He joined up with several of the people he regularly traveled with to work on mostly smaller kitchen and bathroom projects.

“The process of construction is about team work, collaboration and communication, and that’s kind of what wilderness tripping is about as well,” Ruddy explains.

As some time went by they took on larger, more complicated projects and eventually grew their team to 25 employees. About four years ago, the company moved from having Ruddy as the sole proprietor to converting over to an employee-owned cooperative. The process took a while to figure out since there aren’t many examples of companies working like this around the country. But Ruddy consulted with experts inside and outside of the Twin Cities and the end result was worth the work. To be considered for ownership, employees have to work for the company for four years and show a commitment to its core values and mission; they currently have 15 owners.

“That is really a big part of our story—the employee experience at Terra Firma,” Ruddy says. “We are such a unique entity and we have found it to be a very democratic process. Not all employees in the company are owners, but all owners in the company are employees.”

Ruddy credits their cooperative approach with the high level of retention Terra Firma witnesses among employees, along with the fact that the company offers good healthcare, matching retirement and a focus on friendships and mentoring. Because their employees have ownership over the company, they realize that what they do on a regular basis has an impact on the business and on their bottom line. They can affect profitability and the direction of the company, and they have a say in the future and the overall policies created, according to Ruddy.

“We believe each person has a long-term role in the company,” he says. “Nobody is disposable.”

Ruddy and his crew think just as highly of their customers. The company’s website touts a strong commitment to high ethical standards and Ruddy explains that they are an open book, transparent company for pricing and strategies, embracing processes and structures that allow them to do their best work.

“It stems from the belief that the truth lies in our actions and the intent behind what we are doing,” he says. “Not only are we transparent, but our actions are reflective of what we are saying.”

It goes beyond simply ensuring a clean and safe working environment, though they make that a priority as well. But according to Ruddy, it’s also about the quality and variety of work.

“We serve as a resource of new thinking and product options to our clients,” he explains. “We promise to do the best job possible, the best work that we know how to do. If there’s something we are unsure about, we tell our client that. And if someone has a job that they want to cut corners on, then we usually say we aren’t the best fit for them.”

Ruddy says that as part of their commitment to their clients, they like to offer the most sustainable products and processes available in the remodeling industry.

“We are really in tune with our responsibility to the planet, future generations, to our kids, to do the best job we can on a daily basis and so that means trying to use products that are as green or as sustainable as possible,” he says. “We are always asking ourselves ‘What is the impact going to be for the people around us?’ Things like air quality and the lifespan of the product for sustainability sake. We really give that a lot of thought.”

When it comes to their location, and to how the company fits with its surrounding community, Terra Firma is on solid ground. In addition to having been born and raised in the Twin Cities, Ruddy says that it’s a place where his business can thrive and a community that embraces his business model.

“Each city around the country has its own flavor, and we’ve really come to know and love the flavor the Twin Cities has going,” he says. “We’ve become experts in the housing stock here and we take great pride in continuing the tradition of quality in the older homes that we remodel. It’s a great place to live and an exciting place to run a business.”


To learn more about Terra Firma, visit their website: terrafirmamn.com

Photo credit: terrafirmamn.com