Hamilton County mayoral candidate Matt Hullander touts business expertise

Hamilton County Republican voters will next month make their choice for the next mayor from three local entrepreneurs who want to succeed Jim Coppinger as Hamilton County Gov.

The GOP contestants are Sabrena Smedley, Matt Hullander and Weston Wamp.

(READ MORE: Times Free Press Voter’s Guide to the 2022 Hamilton County Election)

The only Democrat running for borough mayor, Matt Adams, is a 25-year-old contract assistant who moved to Chattanooga last year after leaving active duty in the US Army. The May 3 Republican district mayor primary winner faces Adams and two independent candidates, Richard D. Ford and David Tulis, in the August 4 general election.

The Times Free Press interviewed all three Republican candidates because it is a contentious primary.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayoral candidate Sabrena Smedley claims experience with small business and government)

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayoral candidate Weston Wamp cites startup and entrepreneurial experience)

Matt Hullander, 48, has spent most of his career building the window replacement and home remodeling business his father started more than four decades ago.

After bagging groceries at the former Red Food Stores as a teenager while attending Ooltewah High School, Hullander became a window installer at his father’s home remodeling business, Hullco Exteriors, while visiting Chattanooga State. After college, Matt Hullander rose through the ranks of his father’s company and became President of Hullco until 2005. Matt Hullander acquired the family business in 2007, just before his father Bill, who was then County Commissioner, was elected County Trustee in 2010.

From 2007, when he bought the company, until last August, when he sold Hullco to West Shore Home, based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Matt Hullander quintupled the company from annual sales of about $4 million to more than $20 million -Dollar by adding an office in Knoxville five years ago and expanding the remodeling business from windows and trim to bathrooms and other remodeling projects.

Hullco was named Replacement Contractor of the Year by Replacement Magazine, a Big 50 Contestant by Remodeling Magazine, and a 2020 Best Place to Work by Edge Magazine, a publication of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and was a second-time Torch Award winner for business ethics from the Better Business Bureau.

“I have the experience of leading this entire county as CEO,” Hullander said during a televised debate on WTVC-TV.

Matt Hullander

Age: 48

Position: Former President and owner of Hullco and investor in several real estate and business ventures. Member of the Advisory Board of First Horizon Bank.

Career: He joined Hullco in 1994, worked at the company’s window factory and held various jobs before becoming President of Hullco in 2005 and purchasing the company from his father in 2007. Hullander sold Hullco to West Shore Home, based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, last August. He was active in transforming trading groups.

Training: Graduated from Chattanooga State Community College.

Personally: He and his wife have one daughter and live in Rivermont.

Campaign website: matt4mayor.com

Hullander, who has consistently helped Hullco grow over the years with personal TV pitches and commercials, said he aspires to become a salesman for Hamilton County now as mayor, managing the mayor’s office and Hamilton County’s annual budget of $833 million to take center stage.

“As a business owner who has made payroll, built a team and successfully weathered multiple recessions, a pandemic and an ever-changing economy, I am well prepared to lead the county,” Hullander said. “I’ve had hundreds of employees and most importantly payroll for over two decades.”

However, Hullco’s payroll practices for some Hullco employees who are paid on a piece-rate basis were found to violate hourly and overtime requirements for such employees. A 2020 investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found that Hullco “was found in violation when the company failed to pay the extra half-time due to piece-work workers,” according to a summary of the published investigation based on an inquiry the Freedom of Information Act. Labor Department investigators said installers worked an average of 3 hours of overtime per week without paying the premium they were entitled to,” and Hullco was ordered to repay $9,024.56 in wages.

Hullco bathroom plumber Shannon Tucker said the company continued illegal payment practices even after Labor Department investigations, and Tucker sued Hullco last year after Hullander sold the business to West Shore.

In a complaint filed in federal court, Attorney Philip Oliphant said Tucker routinely worked more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay. After the Labor Department’s investigation ordered overtime pay for pieceworkers, Tucker’s lawsuit alleges that a Hullco official boasted that the company “came out of it like a bandit.” Tucker said he was directed by Hullco Vice President Bobby Winnie , “figuring out how to keep it [his timesheet] at 40 hours” and “do [the timesheet] look nice.”

Hullander eventually agreed to pay Tucker $17,500 to settle the lawsuit, without admitting any wrongful conduct.

Hullander declined to discuss individual employee grievances, but said in a statement, “There have never been any illegal wage practices at Hullco.”

Hullander said he has tried to build a culture of integrity and fairness at Hulcco and “I think 99% of our employees who have worked at Hullco will tell you that their favorite thing about working there was the family atmosphere.

“Sometimes you upset employees, but I think I’ve been as fair as any employer in the United States,” he said.

When Hullander sold Hullco to West Shore Home last August, Hullco employees were offered jobs with the new owner. But shortly after the sale, West Shore moved out of Hullco’s office and warehouse facilities and relocated and consolidated its Chattanooga operations to its current location on Appling Street. Because of the centralized sales, payroll, and other efficiencies of a larger company, West Shore in Chattanooga has fewer employees than Hullco did a year ago.

According to its financial disclosure, Hullander continues to have a number of real estate investment interests through B and M Development, which owns a number of commercial rental properties in East Brainerd; Scenic Land Co., which owns McLemore Cove and Lookout Mountain Golf Course in Walker County, and Apison Land Co., V2 Holdings LLC; V2 Strategy LLC; and Chestnut Holdings LLC. Hullander also serves on the local board of directors of First Horizon Bank and is an investor in the Chattanooga-based telehealth platform Rhinogram and an Italian restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona known as Thompson 105

Hullander said he has no intention of investing his property in a blind trust if he is elected mayor.

“I don’t have to hide anything,” Hullander said. “I do not do business with the county in any of my businesses, and if elected, I will serve full-time as mayor.”

Hullander said many of his businesses have grown from the relationships he’s built throughout his career, “and I think I can do that too by being mayor to help Hamilton County.”

Hullander said he learned many valuable business and political lessons from his father, Bill, who, as county manager, is the county’s chief financial agent. But Matt Hullander insists he remains independent as mayor. The Trustee’s Office is self-funded by its tax revenues and implements tax policies established by the Borough Mayor and the Commission.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.

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