How did you start your career in construction?
I didn't start out in construction. I studied journalism in college and in previous life spent time as a writer, mostly writing about music. But I grew up around the trades. My dad was an engineer at TVA and built our house, and my grandparents were trade-oriented. So I starting picking up carpentry in college because the kind of journalism I did required supplemental income. It's the typical story you hear ... I got that fancy degree and racked up debt, and then switched to become a carpenter.
I worked for my dad for a couple of years in home building where I cut my teeth in construction management. When the bottom fell out in ’08 and things got crazy in the industry, his small company folded. I was married and we were expecting a child and so I knew I had to either swing a hammer for someone else or make a run for it on my own. I started New Blue in August 2008 in the worst quarter of the worst year. At the time it was just me and I had a few jobs lined up, and then things just sort of grew from there. It was touch and go for the first years, but now our staff has grown with a focus on self performance so we have carpenters, painters and a full crew in-house today.
What kind of projects do you choose?
We do a mix of residential and commercial work and most of our commercial work centers on renovation. We're definitely remodelers. Our niche is fixing old buildings and we're comfortable in that space. The Stove Works project in Chattanooga is a good example of what we do. We're in Phase 1 renovation of a 30,000-sf old brick building from the 1920s, and Phase 2 we will be restoring a 1908 building.
How do you see the industry evolving in the years ahead?
Skilled labor is on everybody's mind. We're seeing greater competition in recruiting quality people as wages continue to rise. Wage increases is legit and is not going anywhere. Some of that is needed from a cost of living point of view but there's a balance in keeping that sustainable. New Blue has had luck with retention. We emphasize to our foreman and leads to take time to train on the job and have some good success stories on our side in training formerly unskilled guys to become quality workers.
I think the energy code and building codes will continue to constantly chase a higher level of efficiency and adapting to those requirements may be a challenge.
Why did New Blue join AGC?
AGC is positioning itself in a more forward thinking way to support Chattanooga as a building community and I am impressed with how AGC is using it's resources as an organization. AGC's continuing education is strong, and I like AGC's engagement with Chamber and other civic-driven organizations.