This homegrown company, which serves clients across the nation, is experiencing a surge in activity this year. Find out what’s behind the recent growth, and how the Rockford area is faring overall (infographic included)
The construction industry is rebounding. At least, it feels like a rebound for Rockford Structures Construction Co., 10540 N. Second St., Machesney Park, Ill.
The full-service commercial construction and management company has about a dozen projects in the works, everything from church buildings and government structures to school renovations. This year alone, the firm has picked up at least $10 million in new business, and added nearly 15 new employees.
“There are opportunities in 2014 that we haven’t seen since before 2008,” says Chris Reyenga, director of business development. “We used to work on two or three religious facilities a year, sometimes as high as five. This is the first time since 2009 or ’10 that we’ve had a religious facility actually expand.”
It’s a banner year for the Rockford region, where at least 30 committed projects encompass nearly 1.8 million square feet of new and renovated space, according to the Rockford Area Economic Development Council. Those projects are expected to generate several million dollars of local investment, and deliver hundreds of new jobs across multiple industries. The construction industry alone has picked up nearly 400 net new jobs since last summer, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Rockford Structures is seizing upon those opportunities and expanding its reach far beyond the Rockford region. Whether it’s building a factory in Kansas or expanding a church in Belvidere, this company stands by its works and relationships built over the past 50 years.
As a full-service commercial construction and management company, Rockford Structures is capable of seeing a project through every step. Its team of 25 can design projects, create budgets and bid subcontractors, and do any other planning and specification work. But many of their projects begin as a rough idea or sketch.
“Design/Build is one of our specialties, so a client will come to us and say, ‘Here’s what I want,’ and they’ll have a sketch on the back of a napkin,” explains Chris Reyenga, director of business development. “We take that napkin idea and create a project to meet their needs.”
You may have seen the company’s work at Beef-a-Roo restaurants, Christian Life Schools or the Rockford Rescue Mission, but that’s just the start to this imaginative, family-owned business.
A History With Pre-Fab
Rockford Structures got its start from an unfortunate injury that occurred at a very opportune moment. In 1966, Lenz Heinrich, a former mason, founded the company after suffering a career-ending injury. Seeing an opportunity in new building methods, Heinrich became a supplier of Star Building Systems, which makes pre-engineered metal building materials.
“That was the era when they were shifting from your typical masonry construction to pre-engineered steel construction,” explains Reyenga. “Parts for buildings were manufactured off-site in a controlled environment and then shipped off to construction sites.”
Lenz died in 1994, but his work lives on through son Brad and grandson Nate, whose families still own and operate the company. Reyenga is Brad’s son-in-law.
In today’s environment, pre-engineered and pre-fabricated structures are more the rule than the exception, in part because pre-formed and pre-cast materials shrink the timeline for a design/build project.
Just last year, Rockford Structures managed a fast-track job for a new call center in Loves Park, Ill. The customer showed up in March and had a finished project by August.
“We were able to outline their needs, line up all of the permits and coordinate the design and pre-manufactured systems,” says Reyenga. “These materials allow us flexibility to build a project faster. The foundations are put in, and, while we wait for materials, we can run the underground plumbing and electric so that, when the components come, we can just tilt them up and lock them into place. Then, you can start working on the interior.”
Building materials may be pre-engineered, but that doesn’t mean customers get cookie-cutter forms.
“Some people ask about our standard, but we don’t have a standard,” says Reyenga. “Everything is unique, because everybody has different needs or wants when they build something. Our clients each have different layouts and equipment footprints, so we need to be flexible.”
Newer technologies have helped Rockford Structures to expand its reach halfway across the country. Within the past few years, it’s managed and completed projects in Kansas, New Jersey, Arizona, Nevada and New York, to name a few locations.
“It might seem like we’re a smaller company, but we’ve evolved with technology to work longer distances,” says Reyenga. “You can provide construction management of projects through computers, cameras and even streaming of data from a construction site.”
Long on Experience
The building boom of the 1990s and 2000s was a busy time for Rockford Structures. Church clients during those years included Spring Creek United Methodist Church in Rockford, First United Methodist in Belvidere, and the First Congregational Church in Dundee – which is a striking hilltop landmark.
“The spiral on that was 180 feet in the air,” says Reyenga.
Education clients include Rockford Christian Schools, the junior and senior high schools in Dakota, Ill., a community center in Romeoville, Ill., and the Patriots Gateway Community Center in Rockford.
As for industrial projects, Rockford Structures has worked on a FedEx ground facility in Rockford, the Wanxiang solar facilities in Rockford and Elgin, and the new facility for Kuhn North America in Brodhead, Wis.
Other notable facilities in the Rockford Structures portfolio include Rockford’s new east-side bus transfer station, a government building in Sycamore, recreation centers in Belvidere and Roscoe, Ill., and the barn-like pavilion at Pavilion at Orchard Ridge Farms, in Rockton, Ill.
A Banner Year
This year’s pickup in construction is keeping Rockford Structures busy. For the first time in several years, the company is building a church, in a unique job that marries new construction with old, at the St. James Church in Belvidere.
“It’s an 1880s or ’90s church and we’re adding on,” says Reyenga. “The challenge is in creating a safe game plan for adding on. They didn’t have rebar or the means and methods we have today, when the older portion was built. The roof is supported by large beams, sitting on masonry systems that don’t have a steel lintel carrying the load. You have to do certain things, as you open the building and put the addition on, to be safe and maintain the integrity of the older structure.”
In Lee and Ogle counties, Rockford Structures is completing a $4 million sheriff’s office in Oregon, Ill., and a 12,000-square-foot, pre-engineered transit building in Dixon, Ill.
In Rockford, the company is working inside several public schools, as the district undergoes a multi-million dollar project to improve aging facilities.
This spring, Rockford Structures completed work at Spring Creek Elementary, where it added a new entrance, cafeteria, kitchen and boiler room.
At Jefferson High School, the work is more extensive.
“We’re adding two new vestibules, putting in a new gymnasium floor, renovating the auditorium and its commons area, and creating a media center for them,” says Reyenga.
The construction industry hasn’t been without its challenges, this year. For one thing, a late start to the building season, due to weather, has squeezed many project timelines. Ditto for the increased demand in materials.
“Used to be, you’d get materials in six to eight weeks, but now companies are 10 to 12 weeks out,” says Reyenga. “We used to get pre-cast panels in two months. They’re six months out for materials, now.”
The extra demand has also created shortages in labor. Many construction workers who were laid off during the recession have since moved on to new careers.
“We knew the rush was going to come this year, so we’re just trying to make sure things are organized,” says Reyenga. “It’s not always easy when things get going. We have to make sure our ducks are in a row, because every minute counts.”
Looking ahead, Reyenga says there’s still plenty of uncertainty within the industry.
“We hope that we stay as busy next year as we are this year, but the biggest question for next year is this: Is this growth just a flash in the pan, or is it going to continue?” he says. “It’s nice to have all this work, and it’s nice to have all these people, but you want to keep the business together. There are government projects out there, but we’d like to see more of the private investment. When the private industries move forward, that’s a really good thing.”
The Sun is Coming
Adversity is nothing new for the construction industry, or for Rockford Structures. This past fall, crews raced against the weather to finish the foundations of an 80,000 square-foot Wisconsin factory.
“We were two or three weeks before Christmas, and we had to put the foundations in,” says Reyenga. “We had to organize our excavators to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week before the first frost came in. Unbeknownst to us how bad the winter would be, we got the foundations in there and we beat the winter.”
Optimism runs high at Rockford Structures, where business leaders are preparing for an economic springtime, despite a chance of snow.
“It’s just nice to see things happening, or on the verge of happening,” says Reyenga. “Opportunity is something we haven’t seen in a long time, but the opportunities that are there are looking good.”