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Hunter Ballew | Cornerstone Construction & RoofGEN | Greenville Entrepreneurs

You’ve heard me say this time and time again, but I’ll remind you: Greenville has some incredible entrepreneurs and individuals. Yet, there are few that I’ve met who have as much drive, passion, or as strong hearted as Hunter Ballew does.

Hunter is a rarity as a Greenville native. He was born and raised in Travelers Rest, and he attended TR High School. Hunter never really had ambitions for school, but he did have an entrepreneurial spirit from a very young age. At only six years old he was constantly trying to hustle. 

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With a laugh he told me, “I would literally try to find the dumbest ways to make money. I would catch lizards and try to sell them on a quiet street where no one would drive by except the mail lady. Or, I would go in the woods to find old glass insulators to take it to the jockey lot to sell. I’m not sure if people actually wanted the stuff I was selling or if they just thought I was cute.”

“I feel like I was below average as far as learning goes,” Hunter told me, “but my work ethic was above average. All I wanted to do was join the Marine Corps. I worked various jobs throughout high school and immediately joined the Marines after graduating.” 

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It wasn’t long after training finished that Hunter was back in Greenville. He joined the Fire Department and ran his side business of flipping.

“My go-to business was buying and then selling stuff,” he said. “I would buy appliances, cars, boats, trailers, houses. You name it, anything I could buy below value and make a profit on, I would.” 

Hunter began a moving company of his own in 2012, but within two years he realized he could make a good deal more by continuing his flipping business. It was around this time when he started using Ebay and Amazon and his interest in e-commerce and online marketing came to be. 

His marketing side grew quickly. He started learning SEO and how to teach companies how to brand themselves. 

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“Blue collar guys generally frown upon the idea of digital marketing,” Hunter said. “I found that it’s often because they’ve been scammed in one way or another.” Using that as his inspiration and motivation, Hunter founded RoofGEN, a brand consulting company for roofing and other blue color companies. His goal was to show these business owners that the modern ways of marketing were valuable and could provide insight into their companies. 

In order to prove his thesis, Hunter needed a case study. Thus began Cornerstone Construction. “I figured if I can do it myself and show them I built this company using my knowledge of digital marketing I could tell them, ‘imagine what I can do for you.’ Not only that, I would be able to learn the ins and outs of the construction industry better.” 

Hunter initially consulted with other contractors in the Upstate to discuss partnering. However, he ended up with an experienced project manager and no longer needed a partner. Today, they are the fastest growing roofing company in Greenville and serve both residential and commercial clients all over the upstate.  

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“Even though Cornerstone was just supposed to be a case study, I fell in love with it during the process,” Hunter said with a smile. “It has given me the ability to serve the community so much better than I ever imagined. It’s a blessing to my heart to be able to serve and give back to the community. It blesses my heart to be able to give away tickets and see kids get to go to Drive, Clemson, and Swamp Rabbit games. If you’re not willing to be generous from the start when you have nothing you’re not going to be generous at the end when you have a lot.”

He continued, “With RoofGEN, I can work form my couch. But I truly love getting out and interacting with Greenville via Cornerstone. I love building relationships. One day my hope and dream is to train, coach, love on, and build up others, specifically youth. I have such a big heart for kids. I want company/companies to provide for not only my family but hundreds of families. My end goal is to have the resources to be able to bless others and build others up.”

“As a kid my family wasn’t poor but we certainly weren't rich. I can remember we had an old astro van that overheated and, wouldn't you know, didn't have any heat. So, my dad was pretty innovative. In the morning before school we'd have to fill up 2 liter bottles with water incase the van overheated on the way to school. Well, why not fill them up with hot water, right? We'd hang on to those things and stay warm all the way to school during the winter.”

“When you're young most everyone thinks their life is rough. We all have our own circumstances when the little hill seems to be a mountain.  As I grew I realized that life isn't so bad. From a young age I knew that my life was going to be different.  One day, specifically, the school bus dropped me off at the end of the road and I walked up the the hill towards our house.  At 12 years old in a curve on North Benson Road I said my life IS going to be different. Whatever it takes. I don't want the worries of money. I want to be able to bless others.”

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“As I've gone on from school into the Marine Corps, Fire Department and multiple businesses life has taught me so many things. I've learned to keep your foot on the pedal and never let up on personal development. Always be the best you can be. I've learned to giveback and watch others be blessed. Most of all, I've learned to show love and compassion for all people whether it's family, friends, co-workers, or some guy you meet at QT.”

He concluded, “We truly appreciate the support of the Upstate as we continue to grow Cornerstone. You'll hear this on my Facebook Live videos often. Our promise has been, and always will be, as we continue to grow, we'll continue to give bigger!”

Hunter’s heart and passion for helping others really struck a cord with me. If you follow him and his business’s on social media, you’ll see that everything he and his company does is entirely genuine. It was humbling to sit across the table and hear the passion that flows out of him.
I highly recommend you give Hunter, Cornerstone Construction, and RoofGEN a follow.

Chris Manley | Rebuild Upstate | Fighting Gentrification & Empowering Others | Greenville Entrepeneurs

Gentrification and making housing affordable has been a key talking point in Greenville for some time now. Rightfully so, as Greenville has experienced unprecedented growth over the past decade. Just recenrly Pulse, the Greenville young professional organization, held a luncheon that featured a panel of experts who discussed what can be done and the Ubuntu Institute for Community Development showed a documentary on gentrification.

I find that it’s only fitting this week’s feature is Chris Manley.
 
Chris is the owner and founder of Engenius, a local web-design and marketing agency, and Executive Director of local non-profit Rebuild Upstate. Rebuild Upstate is dedicated to repairing and renovating homes in disrepair for those that cannot afford to do it themselves. A side effect of this is the slowing down of gentrification.

Chris was born and raised in the Upstate. “I grew up in a typical middle class family,” he said. “My mom worked in social services. She has a strong passion for caring for others. She would often have me with her at the group homes and facilities where she worked. I was regularly playing with kids who were taken out of their own home for counseling. We may have looked a little bit different, but we were the same age, we went to the same school, we both liked playing with legos. This could happen to anybody. I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in a good environment.”

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His mother’s passion became his own. In 2006, while still attending Clemson, Chris would load up with other volunteers in 15 passenger vans and drive south to New Orleans to help with rebuilding efforts after the devastation hurricane Katrina caused. They did everything from roofing, flooring, and plumbing.

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Their efforts did not go unnoticed. “I had someone reach out to me,” Chris said, “asking if we could help a local family get their roof repaired. I didn’t see why not, so we decided to make a go of it. We had 3 dozen people show up to help. We realized there is a need in our own backyard. This is how Rebuild Upstate was born.”

“There are people all around us that are in need. The motivation behind why I started Rebuild Upstate is because Christ calls us to help those in need. For some people, that’s providing clothing to the homeless and for others it’s feeding the hungry. For us it’s helping people feel safe and comfortable in their own home.”

In 2012 Rebuild Upstate worked in 26 homes, approximately 1 project per home.
In 2016 they worked in 141 homes, 283 projects, over two per home.
In 2017 they’re hoping to have worked in 200 homes and 500 projects.

Their goal is to perform everything on a wholistic scale by connecting with other non-profits doing similar things. “We can’t serve everyone on our waiting list which is over 1,000 people now. We don’t want to dominate or control all the credit,” Chris said. “There’s a need for collaboration in the non-profit sector. If we meet an elderly gentlemen who’s living by himself, has an unsafe way in and out of his house, and who can’t drive, it would behoove us to give meals on wheels a call and introduce them.”

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While Rebuild Upstate is in affordable housing, their focus is different than other organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity. They work with homeowners that are living in a state of repair. They use volunteer labor which helps cut costs significantly, and they work to make a home livable again so the homeowner is in a stable situation and off of waiting lists. Not only that, it keeps them in the community they live in. “Most of the people we serve have been in their community for 20+ years,” Chris told me. “This help prevents gentrification. They’d love to stay on the street the grew up on.”

Although they’re not building from the ground up, they’re helping people stay in place. “If we can keep people in the same spot for $3000, rather than uprooting them and placing them in a brand new home, it allows us to collaborate and work together with other organizations that do provide affordable housing.”

Chris continued, “We were doing assessments of families that we served a year ago, and one of the questions was ‘are you financially able to maintain your home.’ We found that the majority of them weren’t any better off than they were a year ago. We decided we wanted to address that need, so we started offering financial literacy training. Financial literacy isn’t our mission, but at the same time, we can’t just keep putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. We want families to be able to take pride in maintaining their own home.”

Rebuild Upstate has a diverse string of support. They work collaboratively with local government, the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority, Senior Action, and State Housing Trust Fund. The remainder of their funding comes from several generous individuals and private organizations such as churches. Their labor is all volunteer based, many companies will use it as a team building and giving back exercise.

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Rebuild Upstate’s work is entirely with low income people, many of their clients are individuals who make 50% less than the median income in their area.

“I have always maintained this philosophy that if you’re in the human service sector of non profits your job is to make life better for others,” Chris said, “That’s our job. There may be different organizations that serve in different capacities and demographics, but at the end of the day we’re all trying to improve the life of people in our community. Our mission is more than just the specific niche we’re trying to solve. We have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we create wholistic change?’ We want to create a support framework that allows those in need to lead a better life.”

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Now, over 10 years since Rebuild Upstate’s fruition and with his company Engenius thriving, Chris finds himself delegating more and more. “I rely a lot on leadership teams and trust them to keep things running. “I’ve learned that to be a good leader you have to set a clear vision and get the hell out of the way. I can’t do everything. Sometimes I just need to get back in my office and stay there. I’ve got a lot of expertise and history in both of these organizations that I try to bring to the table when necessary. Otherwise, I let people do their job and run with it. I want to empower people to do amazing things.”