It's not just the biggest builders that are on a roll. Dura Builders in Indianapolis, which last year closed 505 homes, says it's planning to open 14 new communities this year, reaching the largest home volume in the company's 30-year history. But it also won some added attention when Dura founder and CEO Paul Shoopman was named a 2003 National Entrepreneur of the Year by accounting firm Ernst & Young.

Chosen from among thousands of nominees in 38 markets nationwide, Shoopman particularly impressed the judges with the builder's panel and truss division, created in 1997. The $3 million facility enables panels and trusses to be hand-assembled to exacting standards, resulting in improved productivity, shorter production times, and lower costs for consumers. Shoopman, who built his first house when he was 18 and founded Dura in 1973—with his father co-signing the bank loan—also impressed the judges with his company's “Mondays of Mercy” program, in which different employees distribute goods and clothing every week to charity.

Shoopman credits his experience with Ryan Homes as a concrete subcontractor for his inspirations at Dura, recalling Ryan's early sophistication in pre-fabricated houses and production processes set up with subcontractors. Chris Bruner, director of the Ernst & Young awards program based in McLean, Va., noted that “Paul Shoopman put his own personal capital at risk. That's the spirit we're looking for.” He added that “It's not fast growth, but the numbers are amazing as far as consistent leadership goes. This is a story where the nice guy finished first.”