The immediate impression upon encountering the job site for what will be the new $26.3 million Maumelle Charter High School is something along the lines of, “This is a charter school?”
The massive 115,000-square-foot project is up and well on its way to completion in the spring of 2022. It’ll include 35 classrooms, administrative offices, a cafeteria, an arena-style gym seating more than 1,800, an auditorium seating more than 800, a band room, science labs, computer labs… even a soccer field with artificial turf and a surrounding track complete with separate areas for the throwing events.
And it’s being brought to life by Nabholz Construction Corp., the iconic construction contractor based in Conway now with 14 offices spread across seven states, from Arkansas to Connecticut. The firm has worked with Academics Plus Charter Schools, which operates MCHS, since the organization’s first facility was built in Maumelle 10 years ago. Nabholz was there for the charter system’s existing campus in 2017 and is on board once again for the sparkling new, state-of-the-art school.
And it’s fitting, given the company’s biggest markets are education and health care. For incoming CEO Jake Nabholz, grandson of company founder Bob Nabholz and son of current Executive Vice President David Nabholz, the new Maumelle Charter High represents something like a cherry on top.
“We did the elementary school in 2011, the existing campus in 2017 and now this one,” he said. “It’s been fun to watch ’em grow. Those long-term relationships are just so important to us.”
Nabholz will be 41 when he assumes the role of CEO on Jan. 1. He’ll take over for 30-year company veteran Greg Williams, who’ll retain his role as chairman of the board. The transition was announced this past summer and had been in the works for a while. After 23 years with the family firm, for which he started working as a general laborer through his high school summers, Nabholz is ready to assume the role of chief executive.
“Jake’s leadership style is modern, yet still in line with the values and principles our company was founded on over 70 years ago,” Williams said. “He has overseen tremendous growth in the company, particularly in our Oklahoma operations.”
Nabholz most recently served as regional president overseeing operations in Central and northeast Arkansas as well as Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma. After graduation from the construction management program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, Nabholz served in business development and office leadership roles, including eight years in the Tulsa office, before his promotion to regional president in 2018.
“I started off as a project manager and transitioned to doing business development stuff, which was good. It was good for me to get out of Arkansas, especially those first eight to 10 years of my career. It’s a lot easier to make mistakes when you’re not in the market where everybody knows you,” he quipped.
And of course, Nabholz is a household name in the Arkansas business and professional communities. So, most everyone who knew Jake Nabholz probably expected him to join the family business. For a long time, all Nabholz knew for sure was that he wanted to be in construction.
“I honestly didn’t know I wanted to do it [become the CEO] until about a year ago,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be in construction, but what role and all that, it just kind of worked itself out. I’ve wanted to be in construction since I got to go to my first job site when I was probably seven or eight years old. I’ve got two younger brothers, and my mom was a school teacher. So, in the summer, she would get tired of having all three of us at the house. I would go to the job site with my dad occasionally and was just hooked on it from day one, all the equipment and stuff happening. The bigger, the better. It was just awesome.”
Bigger and better isn’t a bad way to describe the company’s growth the past decade. Since Williams took over as CEO in 2014, the company’s annual revenue has almost tripled (with four straight record revenue years), a second Tulsa location was opened and new offices were christened in North Little Rock; Portland, Tennessee (north of Nashville); and Oxford, Conn. (New Haven). The firm also added new markets in solar and rail transit.
The Connecticut office was opened to accommodate the latter. There, the Nabholz team performs routine maintenance and emergency repairs on railroad and machine tool equipment and distributes turntables, transfer tables and more to its clients in the northeast. Turntables and transfer tables are used to turn engines around in a railyard (think Thomas the Tank Engine at the end of a long day), and the company custom manufactures them at its shops in Rogers and Olive Branch, Miss.
The company’s services extend as well to machinery moving, installation and service; custom fabrication and millwork; facility maintenance and repair; environmental hazard services; and even crane and equipment rental.
Nabholz’ first order of business on Jan. 1: “Do no harm.” His goal simply is to avoid stagnancy, and a new leadership structure he’s helped create is designed to help do just that. Brad Hegeman was elected board vice chair and named chief strategy officer, responsible for long-term planning and diversification, including new services and acquisitions.
Hegeman, who started at the company in 1996, most recently served as COO with Greg Fogle, who will remain in that role. Nabholz’ former region territories will be split among EVPs Andrew Adlong and Michael Feamster. Based in Jonesboro, Adlong will oversee operations in central and northeast Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Feamster will serve as regional president for Oklahoma.
Perhaps most importantly, Williams is staying on as board chair and guiding Nabholz through the transition.
“We don’t want all that knowledge to walk out the door,” Nabholz said. “Greg is intelligent and humble, and you rarely see those things together.”
Nabholz added that Williams did “a tremendous job” setting up the company for geographic growth, and he hopes to build on that progress. Through the expansion into rail, the Nabholz brand was expanded to the Northeast. But the company also is becoming a bigger regional player.
Major projects in neighboring states include the new terminal at Columbia Regional Airport in Columbia, Mo.; the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium from Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris in Springfield, Mo.; Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Hutchinson, Kan.; the Franklin Special School District Performing Arts Center and Gymnasium in Franklin, Tenn.; the USA BMX national headquarters in Tulsa; and the Case Athletic Complex at the University of Tulsa, in addition to numerous schools and health care facilities in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee.
Nabholz noted Kansas, Oklahoma and Nashville, especially, as good growth markets for the firm.
In Arkansas, it’s difficult to drive anywhere and not see Nabholz handiwork. Notable projects include Saracen Casino Resort, where phase two construction is ongoing; the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (formerly the Arkansas Arts Center), going up in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; Arkansas Children’s Northwest; the corporate headquarters for ArcBest and Southwest Power Pool; the ATA Martial Arts international headquarters; Little Rock’s new, state-of-the-art Southwest High School; and numerous big projects for the University of Arkansas, UAMS, UA Little Rock, UCA, J.B. Hunt and St. Bernards Healthcare.
The Nabholz Corp. portfolio is filled with projects completed for many of the same clients from across the state. In fact, 85 percent of all its work represents repeat customers, Nabholz said.
“We’re still an Arkansas company,” he said. “We’ve built a lot of relationships over the years. That long-term business is so important to us.”
For example, the firm has worked with Arkansas Children’s since 1978. In addition to the construction of multiple new clinics and numerous small renovations at the main hospital, Nabholz Corp. built the health system’s new hospital in Northwest Arkansas.
“Everybody notices the big projects like [Arkansas Children’s] Northwest, that new campus and things like that. But we do a bunch of smaller renovations for Children’s. As a matter of fact, we’ve had teams there that have spent their entire career on that campus,” Nabholz said.
The family atmosphere fostered among both clients and the company’s more than 1,100 employees served it well through the main thrust of the pandemic, and it continues to do so as lingering supply-chain issues confound contractors.
“I thought our team responded really well to the pandemic. Greg did a great job leading us through that,” Nabholz said. “We’re still dealing with the aftermath of it. The biggest issues for us are materials availability and pricing. The cost issues we’re dealing with are unprecedented. And while that’s a problem, a bigger problem is just being able to get materials we need to execute a job — things we’ve never had issues getting.
“I mean, who would’ve thought we’d ever have trouble getting paint?”
Supply chain issues caused by the pandemic forced the company to change the way it did some things, but ultimately, it had to simply “keep going,” Nabholz said.
“You change the sequence of some of the buildings [at a job site]. But some of the items are so critical that you can’t finish until you get them. You build everything around it and come back and install the one thing you didn’t have. Or, you’re having to switch materials, switch finishes. It puts a little bit bigger burden on the architects and owners to help go through that selection process again.
“So, you’re making decisions based on what you can get and not necessarily on what you wanted.”
Nodding to the new Maumelle Charter High being completed 100 yards away, Nabholz added, “It’s still going to get done. The kids are still coming into this building behind us.”
The pandemic also prompted Nabholz Corp. to launch an environmental group within its own corporate structure that could handle the disinfecting at COVID hotspots on a job site. This enabled the company to handle problems and potential problems “right then and there” and not be forced to wait on outside companies whose availability wasn’t guaranteed, Nabholz said.
“We had to help get our clients through that.”
The firm’s growing environmental hazards services group now handles everything from disinfecting and commercial sanitizing to asbestos abatement.
With its expansion into services related but not directly tied to construction, Nabholz Corp. now handles up to 8,000 jobs a year. In fiscal year 2019, its service teams completed more than 7,500 projects.
Nabholz said these teams might do two or three jobs a week, ranging in price from a couple thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. These smaller, quicker jobs could include anything from changing a doorknob, painting a door, a complete remodel to even installing a foundation for a new piece of equipment.
The firm’s industrial group takes on jobs coast to coast, but otherwise, teams are staying within the company footprint. “One of our goals is to always keep our teams close to where they live,” Nabholz said.
And these jobs help set Nabholz Corp. apart, he added.
Nabholz is committed to continuing the company’s legacy of community involvement. His favorite projects are those that aren’t necessarily the biggest and shiniest but the ones that have the biggest impact.
“Someone asked me about my favorite project at Children’s, and everyone assumes you’re going to say the big hospital in Northwest Arkansas,” he said. “Actually, one of my favorite ones is the clinic that we did in southwest Little Rock. Oh, yeah. Because it had the biggest impact on that community and the population that it serves.”
In 2020 alone, Nabholz Corp. contributed more than $1.5 million to roughly 200 nonprofit and charitable organizations that support those in need. And the firm’s Nabholz University program represents an effort to give back to communities while recruiting and identifying its future workforce.
“Basically, we can take a person out of high school, put them under a cooperative internship and let them see if they like construction,” Nabholz said. “And if they do, then we can move them through to different tracks. If they want to work onsite… or we can send them through an apprenticeship program, a foreman training program, and there’s our superintendent development program. So, there’s a really defined track for someone who wants to go that way. Or if someone thinks that they want to be a project manager, we’ve got a really good intern program where we hire interns out of construction management schools like at UALR.”
The company relies on other regional construction management programs as well, including John Brown University in Siloam Springs, University of Louisiana Monroe, Mississippi State, Kansas State and Pittsburg State in Kansas. In today’s environment, manpower is something that can’t be taken for granted.
“It’s one of our biggest challenges,” Nabholz said.
In addition to paying 100 percent of its employees health care premiums, the company offers internal career development courses. In 2020, 137 employees were enrolled, with 61 taking part in the firm’s Department of Labor-recognized carpentry apprenticeship program.
“We’ve got different development programs that can take a person right out of college all the way up to my job,” Nabholz said.
It all boils down to growth. Nabholz is determined to keep the company moving forward and making positive impacts on the communities it serves. And family seems to seep down into the company’s very bones. Not only are there generations of Nabholz family members on the payroll, but multiple generations of other families as well.
And for Nabholz, many employees — such as MCHS site superintendent Luke Schichtl — might as well be family.
“We’re really setting our structure up for growth,” Nabholz said. “We operate what we call our purpose statement, which is pretty simple. It’s growing our people, serving our clients and building our communities. And so that growth model really fits that purpose statement because when you’re growing, you’re able to give your people, your team, more opportunities for their advancement to better support their families.”