Fife businessman receives Chamber's annual award

“At right Art Morrison, of Art Morrison Enterprises, Inc., Fife, works at his computer. In 1990, Morrison taught himself to use the AutoCAD program so that the design ideas he wanted to incorporate into the Morrison product line could be tested and put through what if scenarios. (Photo by Bonnie West) Performance car components builder Art Morrison has received many awards within the hot rod industry, but when he was awarded the 13th Annual George Francis Train International Business Commemorative by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber–he was out of town on business. It was quite a shock, Morrison said of the win for his business, Art Morrison Enterprises, Inc., in Fife. My wife, Jeanette, said it was quite a big deal. My son, Craig, accepted the award for me.The award was presented last week at the World Trade Center Tacoma 2001 Awards Dinner. Craig, who received his degree in marketing at the University of Washington, has joined his father’s company which sees $5 million in sales annually. Last year was a tremendous year and we’re on a nice track right now, Morrison said. I’ve been very fortunate to take what amounted to a high school hobby where I made car parts by hand, and turn it into a lifelong job that I enjoy as much as the day I started–probably more now–not as many headaches.The business got its start in Morrison’s garage in 1971 when he set out to build complete custom race cars and dragsters.By the time he was 15, he was already a dedicated hot rodder, the proud owner of a Buick-powered Model A Ford. Morrison’s next project involved stuffing a big block Chevy engine into a 1954 Chevrolet sedan.After his return from serving in Vietnam, he signed on as mechanic and crew chief for famed exhibition driver Chuck Poole and his Chuckwagon wheelstander. A subsequent stint at piloting a wheelstander for Richard Schroeder ended with an untimely crash, leading Art to make an important career decision. In 1971 Art Morrison Enterprises was formed as full service fabrication shop, and soon gained a reputation for building successful door slammer race cars. Among his more notable early efforts were the NHRA National Record holding cars of Tom Turner, Jim Warter (Joint Venture), and Mike Ferderer.Morrison’s reputation grew, the orders came in, and the business has grown to include 32 employees and orders continuing to come in, only now from at least 45 countries around the world.We have a Japanese engineer working for us. We get anywhere from one to five a week from Japan and they come in Japanese. He has to translate them and pass them on to sales.Among the top products leaving Morrison’s Fife facility are complete frames for just about every imaginable make and model of car.If you have a 1935 Ford, a 1955 Chevrolet or even a later model 1960, ’70 or ’80 Camaro, we can build a frame for it, Morrison said. These are cars being turned into hot rod type-cars, highly modified. There is such a worldwide acceptance of these cars–it is a huge, broad market. I think a lot of people want to capture a piece of their childhood. The worldwide market for it is amazing.Morrison said the defining moment with his business came in 1983 when we just weren’t moving forward. I decided that the only way to grow the business was to make a catalogue and advertise nationally. My banker looked at my figures, but he loaned me the money anyway and I’ve just never had to look back. The rest is history. It’s what got the business growing in the direction it is now.The company saw record sales this past month, even topping last year’s January sales, Morrison said. He added that over the years his business has been more tied to what’s happening overall with the nation’s economy. If there’s a recession, we will note it with a decline in sales, but we’re are not seeing it now.Morrison’s intense focus on his business can certainly be one of the reasons why he’s become so successful. He is up by 3 a.m., at work by 4, on his way home by 4 p.m., in on Saturdays, and often coming in on Sundays. Over the years, Morrison has shifted his work from being the hands-on parts maker, to designing and engineering the products, to working with new products and handling more day to day affairs.He says he’s started cutting back in favor of taking more time out to enjoy fly-fishing, hunting, and camping, It’s one of those things I look at it and it seems like all this time went really, really fast and other times it took about 150 years. he said.The George Francis Train International Business Commemorative honors an individual or organization making a significant contribution to the international business community.Its namesake was a tireless promoter of Tacoma and world traveler who recreated the global adventures in Jules Verne’s classic Around the World in 80 Days. He set out from Tacoma on March 18, 1890, and returning on May 24 the same year. “