Annual Report | Construction: Work ethic, references helps earn place in market
BEMIDJI - For Jon Jorgenson, the work is always different. He wouldn't have it any other way.
Jorgenson, co-owner of J&B Quality Construction in Bemidji, is a general contractor who has been working in the construction field since high school.
He couldn't imagine doing anything else. Or doing anything exactly the same way twice.
"I can't think of anything better," Jorgenson said. "Even the guys (who work for me), they'll be doing a project that's not much fun, but you're always on to another project. You're always going to cycle around to something you enjoy doing.
"There's not many jobs you get to go to where you love what you do every day, but in this job it changes constantly and I like that."
These days, Jorgensen doesn't get out on the job as often as he used to - he's mostly in the office doing the little things that pay the bills.
"I hand out work orders, keep it all in little files and go from there," he said. "Two or three times a week I go down there and put on the hard hat, but usually never for a full day."
He may not do the heavy lifting every day, but fixing and building things has intrigued Jorgenson ever since he was a kid. He'd help his father fix things around the house as a younger child, then took a building trades class in high school - the class got to build a house from the ground up. That's when he got the bug for good.
Jorgenson helped found J&B in 2001 with partner Brad Hensley, but it took him time to build up a good network of clients who trusted his work. He says that's mostly because contractors usually get jobs on a word-of-mouth basis.
"Very few people are going to open up the phone book and hire a contractor," he said. "Certain people have their clients. They won't hire anybody else."
Building up that kind of goodwill can take years - and often involves doing side jobs for people.
"That's technically illegal, but 90 percent of contractors get started that way," he said. "I'm glad I didn't just decide to start up without doing the side jobs. You've got to test those waters. It's a tough business."
The construction business may be tough under normal circumstances, but it's hard to fathom what it was like for people in the trade after the housing market crashed around 2006.
Jorgenson doesn't quite have "horror stories" like some builders, but he says until this year, he hadn't built a new startup home in four years.
Then again, J&B was just getting started when the housing "boom" hit earlier in the decade.
"We didn't really take advantage of it," he said. "I mean, to me, when I stumbled into it, it didn't seem like a boom. I didn't know any different, until it started to turn down and it was like, 'Wow.'"
Hence the lack of new startup homes until this year.
J&B got by, though, by specializing in home rebuilds and remodels. They also do lots of businesses. Jorgenson points to the Great River Dentistry office just south of the airport as one of his favorite jobs.
"We really like challenges," he said. "Lots of curved walls in that office. It was a tough job but fun to do."
That's the type of challenge good contractors embrace with gusto.
"Nobody likes to build a square box all the time," Jorgenson says. "When you look at a blueprint, a one-dimensional drawing, it's difficult to visualize it until you start seeing the project go up. You start looking for more ways to complete it."
Return to normal
Now that more people are building and the industry is slowly recovering, Jorgenson and J&B have more work. That means more jobs.
But it's not something everyone can do. Skilled tradespeople are a hot commodity in the industry.
"It can be difficult (to find the right person)," Jorgenson said. "We typically hire younger and kind of train them in."
Jorgensen says he worked hard to get this far. But it's not something that everyone can do. It requires good knack for details - all the little things that can make a building rise or fall.
Sometimes there's so much you can take for granted," he says. "As you're doing it, you're going to see these things and make the proper corrections. Other people may not.
"You need a good work ethic to be successful in this business. Some people have it, some people don't."