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03 Aug

Big-D Lays a Foundation in Minnesota

By Brian Johnson, Finance & Commerce

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With deep roots in Utah and its neighboring states, Big-D Construction has long been a big player in the southwestern U.S.

The 48-year-old Salt Lake City-based company hasn’t made much of a splash in the Midwest, but that’s starting to change with help from a growing regional office in the North Loop area of Minneapolis.

Chris Grzybowski, a Wisconsin native and longtime Big-D employee, partnered with industry veteran Cory Schubert in 2013 to establish the Minneapolis office with a goal of expanding the company’s presence in and around Minnesota.

That first year was a feeling-out process, as the owners focused on finding office space, looking for clients, and networking. From a project standpoint, the goals were modest.

“Our expectations were we probably would do nothing for year one. So we met our expectations for year one,” Gryzbowski said with a laugh.

But the work has started to roll in, thanks in part to a strong apartment market, an experienced staff, and old-fashioned persistence.

Since early 2014, Big-D has landed $127 million in projects, ranging from apartments to a public works building, and has added 17 employees to its offices at 800 Washington Ave. N., suite 900.

Big-D recently bolstered its personnel ranks with the addition of industry veterans Ken Braun, Tim Sack, and Tom Etter, who have roughly 100 years of combined experience in the local construction industry.

The company also added Jessica Gust, a project assistant with seven years of administrative and support experience.

Braun, a vice president, has 36 years of experience, including leadership roles with Minneapolis-based Kraus-Anderson, and Doran Cos. in Bloomington. He has had a hand in building nearly 1,900 new housing units in the past four years.

Construction management is Big-D’s main focus. The company doesn’t self-perform and it has a good relationship with local subcontractors, Braun said.

“We have people here with good integrity, good reputations,” he added.

Gryzbowski said the company’s goal is to develop “long-term relationships” in the market.

“We are not developers; we are builders,” said Gryzbowski, who previously worked for Big-D as a project manager in Salt Lake City. “So we differentiate ourselves from a handful of players in this market by just purely being builders.”

Big-D’s sweet spot includes projects ranging from $5 million to $25 million.

One notable project just getting started is a mixed-use development with retail space and 115 apartment units at 1730 Plymouth Road in Minnetonka. Paster Properties and Bader Development are developing the project.

Other jobs in Big-D’s portfolio include the 155-unit Lake Calhoun Apartment project at 3118 W. Lake Street in Minneapolis, the 138-unit Siena Apartments at 6800 Cedar Lake Road in St. Louis Park; and a new public works facility for the city of Crystal.

Minneapolis-based Hunt Associates is developing the Siena project, which is nearing completion.

Dan Hunt, president of Hunt Associates, said he didn’t know anything about Big-D before the project started. But the Big-D folks called repeatedly and he agreed to include them in the bidding — to get them to quit calling, if nothing else, he joked.

Is he pleased with their performance?

“Very pleased would be an understatement,” Hunt said. “[The project] was in two watershed districts, which made it more complicated. They just hung in there and helped drag the ball across the goal line.”

Anne Norris, Crystal’s city manager, said she had never heard of Big-D when the city’s public works facility was put up for bid. Beating out four other bidders, Big-D came in with the low construction bid of just under $9 million.

The $13 million public works building, designed by Kodet Architectural Group in Minneapolis, is set for a ribbon-cutting in September.

“We are very happy,” Norris said. “Now that it is a building instead of a hole in the ground, we are getting positive comments from the community. Kodet gets credit for having the vision and Big-D for implementing it.”

Big-D gets its name from Dee Livingood, a carpenter who founded the company in 1967, according to its website. The company now has three offices in Utah, and one each in Arizona, California, Minnesota and Wyoming.

Gryzbowski says Big-D is in Minnesota for the long haul.

“It’s being received very well in the market,” he said.