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OP-ED: An industry of relationships

Connections and informed risk taking help contractor realize company success.

In his inaugural speech as AGC’s 2017 president, Brian Gray, the Northwest region president of Knife River, highlighted that ours is an industry that builds.

We build hospitals, schools, airports, bridges and interstates. But, Gray noted, perhaps the most important thing the industry builds is relationships.

Building relationships is a common denominator across the industry. Whether working in building, marine or heavy highway, the feeling of camaraderie sets construction apart from other industries. We are part of a team that builds something special, something world-class — what we do is important.

But how can building relationships move the construction industry forward and make it unique?

A shining example of successful industry relationships and informed risk-taking can be found in Larry Gescher. While working as vice president at Slayden Construction on the Sellwood Bridge Project and serving as an executive officer on AGC’s Board of Directors, Gescher decided it was time to start his own company — HP Civil, Inc.

As the recession was coming to an end and many construction companies were closing up shop or downsizing to soften the economic blow, Gescher and his business partners Roger Silbernagel (whom he has known since grade school) and Josh Smith (whom he had worked with at Slayden) coordinated the start of their company just as the economic upturn hit.

All three men had started working out in the field when they entered the industry and, for the first year of HP Civil, they returned to their roots. They had the knowledge and experience needed to bid, build and complete projects, and they weren’t afraid to do some heavy lifting. Because it was difficult for other companies to compete with their knowledge and work ethic, they were able to bid jobs and win work.

Similarly, their company values set them apart from the competition. After being employees for so long and seeing firsthand all of the good that can come from positive employee-employer relationships, they wanted to spread the good. “As managers and owners, everything we do is about the guys in the field,” said Gescher, “if we don’t have motivated field staff, it won’t do us any good.” Everyone is just trying to make a living for themselves and their families, so HP has worked hard to figure out what motivates their employees and keeps them invested in their jobs. To that point, HP set up profit-sharing and has been able to distribute every year.

Gescher has stressed that he couldn’t have done any of this without his partners. He was already on track to serve as AGC’s 2015 president before starting the business and, although the timing wasn’t great, his partners were supportive and together they made it work. “Being surrounded by the association members initially gave me the confidence to start my own business,” said Gescher. “A majority of AGC’s board members are business owners, so I thought if they can do it, I can do it.”

Gescher also emphasizes that while personal relationships have been incredibly important on his journey, so too have industry relationships — especially with vendors. “I couldn’t have done any of this without the relationships I had built with vendors while working in the industry…as you call vendors and suppliers, it’s nice for them to know your name from previous experience because they are more likely to go out on a limb for you.” Relationships have proven critical to Gescher’s success and all of HP Civil.

By maintaining a positive attitude and working with good people, HP Civil has cultivated a culture of trust and honesty. The name itself means “Honesty Prevails,” and with the same beliefs and passion, the HP team lives up to its name every day, using it as a guiding principle when making both short and long-term decisions.

Larry Gescher’s story and the success of his company can be attributed to relationships. Taking the time to know the people you work for and with not only makes work more enjoyable and fulfilling, it can prove incredibly beneficial down the road and help realize your dreams.

Mike Salsgiver is executive director of the Associated General Contractors Oregon-Columbia Chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or

This column originally appeared in the Business Tribune and can be found here.

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