By Becky Hurley
Location: Headquarters in Colorado Springs. Offices in Denver and Vail as well as Jackson Hole, WY with new office opening soon in Oklahoma City
Founded: 1967 by Gil Johnson
Privately owned: 60 stockholders. President and CEO Jim Johnson, majority stockholder
No. of employees: 420
As the built-environment finds new footing, regional powerhouse GE Johnson diversifies while staying true to its culture and community
Construction firms like GE Johnson Construction Co. represent one of America’s backbone industries. Founded in 1967, this second-generation employee-owned corporation has built $6 billion in completed projects, ranging in size from $10,000 to over $240 million.
Examples of GE Johnson’s work are found from Michigan to California; Idaho to New Mexico. The firm’s portfolio includes hundreds of Front Range and mountain community hospitals, schools, libraries, municipal buildings, luxury ski country condominium, government office buildings and performing arts centers.
Among current jobs is a $54 million remodel and expansion of the Broadmoor Hotel’s original West building. Since early November, GEJ logo’d cranes have dominated the posh resort’s scenic landscape, lifting 9-ton front loaders or transferring and setting steel from an on-site staging area. Project Manager Scott Miller and Superintendent Tim Redfern oversee the job. Suppliers deliver lumber, concrete and roofing or building materials daily, and hundreds of laborers are shuttled in from the hotel’s employee parking area. The all-hands-on-deck project must be completed by May, just in time for a sellout five-day national conference.
As a result, the company must run two shifts, and it’s 10 to 12 hour days (including weekends) for some 200-plus GE Johnson employees and subcontractors who are assigned to the project. This is just one of 12 to 15 jobs on the schedule at any given time.
“This should be a pretty good year,” Johnson says. His optimism is in sharp contrast to two years ago when the Great Recession nearly brought the general construction industry to its knees. During that period, hundreds of millions of dollars in Steamboat Springs’ and Denver commercial projects “evaporated” overnight.
When the wheels stopped, he estimates the company was at about $240 million in annual revenues That included completion of the Cesar Chavez Academy in downtown Denver as well as starting hospitals for St. Anthony’s North (Denver), Parker and Craig.
The company’s bread and butter business had previously come from education and municipal sectors. As federal, state and local budgets tightened, however, jobs in the pipeline dried up.
The company went through one series of painful layoffs in 2008.
Forced to evaluate his company’s payroll, employee benefits, community involvement and operating budget, Johnson pulled his management team together in 2009 to set a new course for the company.
“Our horizon back then just kept changing. We followed home starts and the Department of Labor’s job creation numbers, thinking things would stabilize. We kept investing in training and improving our technology,” Johnson recalls. When that didn’t happen quickly enough, however, the company’s employee census fell to a low of 300 – down from 600 two years earlier.
Tough times, however, eventually led to positive outcomes.
Some budget cuts were never an option. Key community involvement and employee benefit programs, for example, had always been part of the GE Johnson culture. They were not negotiable. Instead Johnson and the stockholders decided to work leaner. To survive, the company would need to expand geographically, look at acquisitions and enter new vertical markets.
Named one of the country’s top 400 contractors by ENR magazine in 2012, Johnson plans to add new industrial, hospitality and multifamily projects to the company’s traditional medical, commercial and government work. Activity in the Denver metro area, including a mixed-use complex underway near Union Station, is picking up. Johnson has begun talks with Noble Energy officials in northern Colorado and expects to open a new office next year in Oklahoma City.
“We’ve diversified so when the next economic dip occurs, we’ll be on more solid footing,” he assures.
Challenges: “Skilled labor. During the recession only a few large contractors were forced to close, but many subcontracting companies shut for good. It’s made it hard to find the skilled trades (people) we need to ramp up again – especially carpenters, masons and drywallers.”
Opportunities: “The Broadmoor West remodel is tremendous – they have such a celebrated brand. Completing a job of this quality under a tight deadline gives us an important stamp of approval.”
Needs: “We have at least 200 people on the Broadmoor job and could use many more. You can make good money in this field -- $25 to $30 per hour, depending on skills. People just don’t encourage their kids to go into construction, but there’s so much opportunity.”