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A few weeks ago I asked my nearly grown children, ages 25, 20 and 17 to accompany their dad to a rustic Inn that has been welcoming guests since 1922 – High Hampton. This is a place where you will not find TV, Internet or even air conditioning in the rooms. Instead, you will find yourself in the middle of a mountainous estate – and at 3,600 feet elevation, removed from the chaos of work and everyday living. A special place to connect with your family.

Our days have been made up of hiking, swimming, canoeing and conversation. Evenings that begin with dinner – where coats and ties are still required –moved effortlessly into the main Lodge room where we gathered with other guests for  lively rounds of bingo, followed by more laughs and conversations. Yesterday we visited nearby Rainbow Falls where the water cascades down a 150’ tall rock face, as we swam in the swimming hole at the base of the falls.

High Hampton is nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near Cashiers, North Carolina. Tall hemlocks and mountain laurel accent the mixed hardwoods of this 1,400-acre setting which also includes a 35-acre lake, gardens surround and a mix of majestic mountains. Rock Mountain and Chimney Top are the two you can hike. I recommend them both.

The lodge itself is of a classic shingle style with poplar and chestnut exteriors that reflect the mountain setting, bringing to mind the Great Camps of the Adirondacks. Our rooms were woodsy featuring hand-hewn twig, yet elegant with tasteful mountain crafted furnishings.

As we left this morning we all agreed this was a great vacation spot to be together and wish to do it again next year. Maybe you might give it a try as well.  Enjoy.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

During his childhood breakfasts, George Barber probably saw wheels where other kids saw Cheerios. He’s had a lifelong fascination with vehicles equipped for power and speed.

The passion ran so deep that Barber, whose family built a legacy in the central Alabama dairy industry, decided to make a philanthropic investment in the community that raised him. Through his generous contributions, Barber Motorsports Park was completed just outside Birmingham in 2003.

The Barber Vintage Motorsports Park is considered the finest road course in North America. It’s also home to the Porsche Sports Driving School USA and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The 5-story museum elegantly displays the world’s best and largest motorcycle collection as well as the largest collection of Lotus racecars in the world.

I recently attended the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama located at the Park. I was in good company. Fans poured in from 40 states and many countries to watch the races. All ages were nestled under the pines along the 2.3-mile course on this glorious Alabama Sunday afternoon. They came to watch some of the world’s finest racers running at speeds up to 200 mph. They left an estimated $30 million economic boost for the Birmingham community.

I took a few things away from my time at the track, and thought I would share them. Maybe next year I’ll see you at the races.

The Pit is arguably as exciting or more so than the race. Before the starting flag, I wandered down to watch the Target professional tech team do their last minute precise prep and install their renowned driver Scott Dixon into the bright red Target car. Whether on the track or on the job, such finely coordinated teamwork gives me a zing.

Indy Racing is green power in action. It’s the first and only motor sport to be powered by 100 percent fuel grade ethanol.

Team sports are great “team building” for your crew. Many from Stewart Perry joined in for a memorable, fun day. We had such a great time together that we decided to make The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama a springtime tradition.

Passion is contagious. Mr. Barber turned his passion into a legacy. The result has and will enhance thousands of lives and bring significant economic benefit to his hometown. George Barber challenges us to follow big dreams and make them happen.

What’s your vision? How can you make it real?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

I’ve often thought that most builders strive for one of two major goals—to make the most money possible or to build a legacy. I’m not sure about you, but as a business owner I’d like to think at least some of what we do will go beyond legacy status and have a lasting impact to help others. I was reminded of that aspiration on a business trip to New York last week.

When I travel for work and I have the time, I try to take side roads as opposed to the major thoroughfares. As I mentioned here, you can get the true flavor of a place and see so much more than the generic interstate view. When I left LaGuardia to head north for the real estate we own, it was one of those days I had a little extra time. I passed over the Whitestone Bridge and I decided that instead of turning north on I-95 (that infamous road from Maine to Miami), I would forge straight ahead on New York State’s Hutchinson Parkway, which becomes the Merritt Parkway when it crosses the Connecticut line.

My impromptu side road tour turned into a meaningful history lesson. The Hutchinson, or “Hutch” as it’s referred to, and the Merritt were part of America’s Work Projects Administration (WPA) days. When men and women could not find employment, the government created this much-needed program to put folks back to work. Jobs were not only in concrete, steel and roads, like the Hutch and the Merritt, but in the arts. We supported all kinds of writing, including songs and poetry. My personal favorite WPA supported art is photography. These images are available from the Library of Congress and we’ve bought several to hang around the office. They provide beautiful architectural references and a first hand look at our country rising above the Depression.

Beyond the infrastructure of the highway, WPA workers crafted a unique collection of bridges along The Hutch and The Merritt. I believe there are about 70 bridges on the Merritt and every one of them is unique. Each has a distinctive style and uses different combinations of concrete forms, stone and shape. This year marks the 75th anniversary of The Merritt—a project that created a 4-lane road that has served the Northeast for almost 8 decades. They also built a heritage of beauty intrinsic to the bridges that span the Hutch and the Merritt.

Looking back at a harsh economy that produced projects with such lasting function and form can’t help but remind me of the challenges we as business leaders, builders and Americans are facing today. It’s inspirational to remember that true legacies were built during our country’s darkest financial days. I’ve challenged myself to stop making excuses and live with legacy top of mind. What can I do now to leave a lasting impact or the future?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

Cahaba lilies-small-Hunter Nichols

“To whom much is given, much is expected.”

That adage has stayed with me for many years. Our company is fortunate to have a nice corporate campus, and I feel that in order to be a good steward of the land, I should invite others to enjoy our place. In the last few months, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Fresh Water Land Trust and the U.S. Green Building Council have met using our conference area.

Our conference room is surrounded by a porch that hangs out over a small lake. There’s an island in the middle of the water where a single willow tree sits—the same one you see illustrated on our homepage. In the surrounding woods, wildlife abounds. The setting is tranquil and invites open conversation. Last week Stewart Perry was privileged to host the Cahaba River Society, bringing supporters of the river together in dialogue with community and business leaders.

Over the years, we’ve been active with the CRS as a company. The picturesque river has been the beneficiary of their conservation efforts over the last several decades. It meanders through the region, providing a source of drinking water, recreational opportunities and even a distinct species of lily only found here. While we’ve always been interested in preserving the River, our first real advocacy in the Society came when we built a grocery store project literally on its banks. We took great precautions to leave our surroundings unaffected and have been passionate about keeping the river clean and natural ever since. Hosting a CRS event seemed like a logical extension of our commitment.

This particular fall evening was crisp by Alabama standards, with a backdrop of trees changing color around the lake, a campfire and glass garage doors open from the kitchen to the patio. While the setting was perfect for talk of preserving nature, the presentation by CRS’s Betsy Thagard made the event truly special. She talked about water conversation and explained why water quality is so important to our lives and to our community. Beyond environmental benefits, there are huge economic payoffs that come with being good stewards of resources.

The time together not only reinforced relationships with donors, but helped open doors for new benefactors. As relationships with development professionals were strengthened, they were encouraged to excel in efforts to protect our water systems for future generations. I’m proud that our campus could be a catalyst for environmental preservation.

Click for more information on the Cahaba River Society, or check out this article in the July issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

PA-herdIn previous posts, I’ve shared with you how important it is to me take time away from the office to clear your mind, opening it up to see new possibilities. You’ll be amazed at the clarity you find when you take a step back and focus on the bigger picture.

My annual visit to the Dakotas is no exception. Buffalo Gap, South Dakota is in the Black Hills, about 50 miles south of Rapid, and certainly qualifies as one of my favorite places on earth. I’ve been making the trip every October for the better part of two decades. Each year, I stay at Hartshorn’s Ranch, a sprawling 6-mile by 10-mile place that borders the Cheyenne River and is home to cattle ranchers who have been my longtime friends. The few days I spend there afford me a complete change of scenery and pace. I get in a little pheasant hunting and help them round up cattle.

We ride the rolling hills of the range with its many valleys, gorges and creek bottoms looking for the cows that have spread out since last May. I jokingly say that when I get through riding to the south end of the property I’m in Nebraska. I at least feel like I have traveled that far.

As I rode this week I got to thinking that the cattle business is much like our businesses during these times. We are all out there looking for prospects in the valleys, gorges and creek bottoms of the current economy. Business is rarely staring us in the face, but it’s still there to be gathered up. It’s slowly getting better. You just have to have a keen eye, perseverance and the ability to stay in the saddle for a long period.

I found all those things true on my trip. By the end, I was tired and could hardly get off the horse, but I was able to count it another successful year. We gathered 246 head from the range, then drove them to a corner where two barbed wired fences meet. From there, we drove them back several miles, across the Cheyenne River and on to the ranch.

Even with all that careful attention, there are still two pairs unaccounted for. Once the weather turns cold, the last ones will make it to the corner and figure out it’s time to come back to the ranch. I encourage you to work hard, then watch as your business comes ambling back in. It will be well worth the time in the saddle.

Check out more of my experience at Hartshorn’s Ranch on my flickr photostream.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.