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Three companies find reason to grow

Sean Ryan

Instead of responding to the construction landscape with caution and cutbacks, three contractors are expanding with new offices and more employees.

Waukesha-based Ruekert & Mielke Inc. opened up a new office in Madison in late April because the firm recently won more projects in the area, and southwest Wisconsin is weathering the downturn better than the Milwaukee area, said Chief Operating Officer Mike Campbell. The company had the choice of reducing its work force or recruiting new workers and breaking into new markets, he said.

“The main motivator is we like to be within an hour and a half of our clients, so this gives us a bigger range in the state,” Campbell said. “It makes a difference. The bigger market area we have, the more chance we have at landing new work and new clients.”

Alfred Benesch & Co., a nationwide engineer with an office in Kenosha, recruited John Van Huis from Radtke Contractors Inc., Winneconne, to open a new branch in Oshkosh in early April.

“I was actually very much employed with Radtke Contractors when they called me,” he said. “So I was a little surprised.”

Van Huis, now Alfred Benesch’s senior project manager, said the company plan is to make contacts with commercial developers and public owners before the construction market picks up to “get in front of the game instead of joining the game in progress.” The company hired about 30 people for offices across the country in the past few months, he said.

“If you wait until things turn around, it’s probably too late,” Van Huis said. “People are planning now, or we hope people are planning now.”

Miron Construction Co. Inc., Neenah, waited until the first week of May to break into the Milwaukee market.

Miron hired Klaus Lemke, who has 13 years of experience in Milwaukee as an employee with J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Madison, and KBS Construction Inc., Madison. Lemke, now Miron’s vice president of Milwaukee operations, said his job is to line up more negotiated contracts and pre-construction work on projects rather than the public hard-bid jobs Miron has historically tackled in Milwaukee.

He said Miron’s experience in project design and building-information modeling will help the contractor compete with the large generals that have worked in Milwaukee for decades.

“As a general contractor, we do more work in the state than anybody else,” Lemke said. “And you look at those big guys, and those are who we really should be competing with.”

In all three cases — Ruekert & Mielke, Alfred Benesch and Miron — the new offices are small. Ruekert & Mielke’s has a handful of employees, but enough space to grow to up to 15 workers, Campbell said.

Van Huis and Lemke represent one-man operations with the ability to bring in more people from other offices as needed. Both said they would search for larger offices if their efforts to drum up business bear fruit.

“I’ve had a meeting a day every day since I started,” Van Huis said. “There’s a lot of developers and a lot of contractors that have plans on the board and are waiting for banks to release money.”

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