Feature profiles

Kelly Construction Group expands reach, builds new headquarters

The Great Recession may have dried up projects and forced many general contractors out of business, but it also created an opportunity for Scott Kelly, Jason Betts and Travis Lourens. The trio worked together before the downturn and were determined to leverage their respective expertise and positive relationships into a new, diverse construction company.

“Things started slowing down and the economy slowed to the point that you had to recreate your business a bit and make sure you were staying in relationship with your clients,” said Scott Kelly, president of Kelly Construction Group, Inc. “So we started talking about how we could take our existing customer base, maintain those relationships and work through a difficult time with the expectation it was going to pick back up.”

The former colleagues launched Kelly Construction Group in 2011, blending Scott’s healthcare expertise with Travis’ municipal and government experience and Jason’s book of business that included developers, retailers and hospitality groups. That decision has paid off, with 2 million square feet currently under construction and the company on target to reach its most recent five-year master plan goals in half the time.

“Establishing and maintaining and nurturing relationships, that’s the key. We’re not going to be everything to everyone, but our company is the right size for a lot of projects—not too small but not too big,” Lourens said. “We are schedule driven and we expect people who work for us to be part of our team and be committed to the same goals.”

Kelly Construction has landed projects for top companies such as Cerner, KCP&L, Merck and UMB, as well as just about every metro-area hospital group including Saint Luke’s Health System, KU Medical Center, Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Children’s Mercy Hospital, and HCA.

In the past two years, Kelly Construction has almost doubled its headcount to 36, prompting it to build a new 20,000-square foot corporate office in Grandview’s SouthPointe Business Park. Recent projects include the conversion of 650,000 square feet of office space for Cerner in South Kansas City, more than 250,000-square feet of tenant improvements for Lee’s Summit’s Summit Technology Campus, and a new parking garage for Shawnee Mission Medical Center, as well as the upscale The Monarch Bar on the Country Club Plaza.

“The Monarch was the first notable project for this type of venue in many years that wasn’t a chain. It’s more of a boutique, standalone space with high-end finishes,” Betts said. “The architect (David Manica) had a vision and he felt we understood that vision.”

Maintaining client relationships has been key to Kelly’s success. With the construction market sizzling, the company remembers the lessons of the past and is focused on smart, controlled growth.

“One of the biggest things we talk about is making sure we meet or exceed expectations on any project. That’s our focus,” Kelly said. “We don’t aspire to be the biggest firm. We want to be known for doing what we say we’re going to do and where we can still feel like one of the three of us has given personal attention to every project we build.”

Above: Kelly Construction Group principals include Travis Lourens, Jason Betts and Scott Kelly. 

Catching up with 2018 CREW KC President Debbie Swearingen

Debbie Swearingen is approaching the midway point of her tenure as 2018 president of CREW KC, an organization that works to advance the success of women in commercial real estate. The VP of commercial banking for Community America Credit Union updated MetroWire Media on key initiatives and the year so far.

MWM: What kind of changes are taking place at CREW KC on your watch?

Swearingen: This year we did a true strategic plan. In our first meeting, we talked about vision and where we wanted the organization to go. We are focusing on four main areas of programming, membership, communications, and community connections. 

MWM: How are you changing CREW KC programming?

Swearingen: We want to resonate in the industry with great programs that bring value to our members but also support our community. In April, our quarterly luncheon covered development and history around the Troost corridor, so we are holding programs that elevate what our community is about by looking at our history, present day and future.

MWM: CREW KC is typically viewed as a networking organization for women. How do you see that changing?

Swearingen: Another goal for this year is to build and retain a diverse membership with an emphasis on key decision makers. We are working to increase diversity by gender, age and race while growing our presence throughout the community. A lot of people don't know what we are all about so we are working to improve our branding and become more well known in the community.

MWM: How do you measure success?

Swearingen: One of our strategic goals for this year is to build meaningful and purposeful relationships, both personal and professional. Being a member of CREW KC isn't necessarily about the business you get but also about personal growth and building relationships. That's important for achieving balance.

MWM: What do you hope people remember about your year as CREW KC president?

Swearingen: I wanted to put the fun back into CREW so we also remember what we are here for. When you do that, business comes. We've added lot of new activities for members and prospective members, including taking a party bus to FunkyTown, networking at Chicken N Pickle and a casino night hosted by BHC Rhodes for recruiting new members. We're doing things a bit differently to get to know people on a more personal level.

Five minutes with Valbridge President Laird Goldborough

Over the past decade, Valbridge Property Advisors in Kansas City has enjoyed double digit growth and seen its staff double in size. Formerly Shaner Appraisals, the company rebranded in 2013 and founded national firm Valbridge Property Advisors. The move led to access to national clients and a 20 percent uptick in customer growth over the past five years. MetroWire Media caught up with Valbridge President Laird Goldborough for insight into the Kansas City market and a look at what's ahead for the company.  

MWM: How did your 2013 founding of Valbridge change Shaner Appraisals?

Goldsborough: We shifted to a national platform. Shaner Appraisals, Inc. was a local company, and we now have national reach as well as access to larger corporate clients. In Kansas City, we were a dominant firm but were not nationally recognized. Now as Valbridge, we have a bigger seat at the table.

MWM: Some are predicting a market slowdown in 2019. What are you seeing?

Goldsborough: I am more optimistic. Kansas City is a low beta market, so there are not a lot of swings. The coasts tend to move up or down before we do. The number of construction cranes is crazy in Kansas City. Single-family is very active, and in the short term the only thing that may start affecting the velocity is an interest rate hike. I don’t really see a major slowdown any time soon. I have not seen any product that has ceased building. It’s been a nice run and cycles do end, but I don’t see the end in the near term.

MWM: You’re celebrating five years as Valbridge, but you’ve been around much longer than that. How has your leadership changed and how will it continue to evolve?

Goldsborough: This is the 40th anniversary of Shaner Appraisals, founded by Bernie Shaner. I purchased the company from Bernie, but he remains very active. We just announced the next generation of leadership with the appointments of Daniel Kann and Jason Roos to Managing Directors. These guys have done everything right. They work hard and are very smart, and we are happy to have them lead the firm into the future.

MWM: How is your role at VPA changing?

Goldsborough: I am seeing my role shift a bit toward mentoring, and I really love coaching and bringing people up through the system. I am a graduate of the HEMP program (Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program), and it is all about giving back and mentoring the next generation. After graduating from that program, this succession planning makes a lot of sense.

Valbridge Property Advisors Principals Bernie Shaner and Laird Goldsborough have announced a new succession plan for leadership that promotes Daniel Kann and Jason Roos to Managing Directors. Pictured above: Bernie Shaner, Daniel Kann, Jason Roos, Laird Goldsborough

Valbridge Property Advisors Principals Bernie Shaner and Laird Goldsborough have announced a new succession plan for leadership that promotes Daniel Kann and Jason Roos to Managing Directors. Pictured above: Bernie Shaner, Daniel Kann, Jason Roos, Laird Goldsborough

Five minutes with JE Dunn MW President Paul Neidlein

Paul Neidlein stepped into the role of Midwest region president for JE Dunn Construction on January 1. The 22-year veteran of the Kansas City construction industry succeeded Dirk Schafer, who retired from Kansas City's top construction company in December. 

MetroWire Media caught up with Neidlein to take his pulse on the 2018 market and beyond:

MWM: What do you expect from the market in the next 18-24 months?

Neidlein: We feel good about 2018. In Kansas City, as well as in every market that we have an office, the arrow is pointed straight up. It will be a record year and 2019 will be as well. I'm not smart enough to predict after that.

MWM: Where does JE Dunn see the most short-term growth potential?

Neidlein: We feel bullish about federal work because we have done a fair amount of it, and JE Dunn has even started a separate federal group to manage those projects. Government facilities are a growth area for us. Part of that is strategic from a diversity standpoint because public work can help balance things out when the corporate side slows down. Anything and everything related to health care has been steady, including medical office. 

MWM: Historically, public projects have been JE Dunn's bread and butter. Do you expect that to continue?

Neidlein: Public projects remain a leading area for us. We still think there is a fairly large program being planned in Missouri with construction of state prisons and county jails. Municipal work on civic centers and community centers still looks pretty positive for us too.

MWM: What do you see as a market headwind?

Neidlein: There is a healthy skepticism about how long this boom is going to last. We will see major players get into trouble and get overextended. It goes back to the capacity side of things. Creditworthiness becomes more important when you think everything is good. 

MWM: What is the impact of all this activity on the trade contractors?

Neidlein: Contractor supply and workforce issues are real. The biggest issue is the capacity of individual companies and labor and what that does to pricing and availability.

With 25 years under its belt, BHC RHODES looks to the future

With 25 years under its belt, BHC RHODES looks to the future

Over the past 25 years, BHC RHODES has built a reputation in Kansas City for its civil engineering, surveying, utilities and telecommunications work. But what most don’t realize is that its portfolio of services also represent the firm’s evolution through years as it weathered the ups and downs of the economy.