In the late 1800s, a fire ravaged through Saginaw, Michigan. In response, brothers Matt and Hugh Spence launched a start-up construction company, named Hugh Spence & Brother, to help reconstruct the homes that were destroyed by the disaster. Fast forward to today, and the company now has offices across the state with locations in Traverse City, Saginaw, and Ann Arbor. “Our niche markets include higher education, healthcare, housing, and office facilities. We also do quite a bit of water and wastewater treatment plant work, including self-perform concrete and carpentry services,” shares Brian Keeler, the Vice President of Preconstruction. Brian, who is joined by Shane Willis, Vice President and Project Director, and Jake Golden, Senior Project Manager, discuss what has made Spence Brothers (Spence) a leader of construction in Michigan for 130 years.
“We value family deeply here, and although we expect hard work, we realize that family comes first. That is part of the culture we have at Spence,” says Brian. It is one of the many reasons why the company stands out from its competitors. At Spence, each project is managed with a very people-centric approach, and with locations across Michigan, its teams are able to take greater care of project-owners with shorter distances to travel to project sites.
Those family-values combined with a very personalized customer-approach are what enable the business to complete projects of an impressive size successfully. Of recent note is the Memorial Healthcare NOW Center completed in 2019, in Owosso, Michigan, a particularly unique contract of which the three leaders are immensely proud.
Project Director, Shane, shares more details regarding its award. “The President/CEO of Memorial Healthcare selected us to manage this once-in-a-lifetime project for the Hospital. We were the construction manager on the project who also had the benefit of self-performing some of the trade work, such as the concrete footings and foundations inside the building and also the general trades, which included doors, cabinets, and hardware.”
With this project, the three gentlemen understood the importance of establishing a relationship built on trust with the architect, Edmund London & Associates and the Owner, all coming together to stand behind the project’s enormous value to the community. “We brought a 38-million-dollar healthcare facility to life in a small, rural area. Previously, its surrounding community would have had to travel about an hour out of town to get to similar facilities.”
The building was designed to provide a well-rounded suite of healthcare services. Coined the Memorial Healthcare NOW Center, the facility houses Neurology and Orthopedic departments, as well as a Wellness Center. “It allows patients to be seen and treated with a more holistic approach in one facility versus many. For example, there is a state-of-the-art MRI in the basement that is one of only three in the state, so patients don’t need to travel away from the Center or schedule separate appointments if they need an MRI. To have a building of that caliber in this community is pretty spectacular in my opinion,” Jake highlights.
Leaving a legacy
“The project was well-received by the surrounding community. Before we had even completed the project, people would arrive, ready to use the facilities. Once they realized it hadn’t yet been completed, we were confronted with questions about when they could expect it to be done. It was great to experience that excitement. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the facility from end-users; everyone has raved about the design of the building and how it turned out,” Jake expresses.
He also gives recognition to the team that brought the project together. “Everyone pushed to give the owner what they wanted. We had an amazing team of subs to work with. I think everyone will agree when I say that the entirety of this project is one of which we can be very proud.” Brian adds that Spence looks forward to more opportunities to enhance the communities in which they work, “We do have some work in the pipeline, but this is really a one-of-a-kind build that we are grateful to have been part of.”
Looking towards the future, these leaders would like to see Spence continue its prosperity and secure a legacy that surpasses the 200-year milestone. “Although we continue to grow, we are not looking to double in size as we are happy where we are. I think we can all agree that we are willing to take on more work, but we want to ensure that we maintain our family-values and people-centric approach,” says Brian.
Shane agrees, “I would like to see us continue to grow without giving up what got us here, from both a relationship and construction excellence point of view. Maintaining and growing our base of repeat clientele is key, as our customers learn what it means to work with us and know that they can trust us.”
Brian emphasizes this by sharing that when it comes to projects, the business works to nurture relationships built on trust. “We want to make sure that owners trust us to manage their funding and understand their vision to get the job done, and done well.”
From what we have learned, the success of Spence is visible in the company’s value system, which according to the leaders, is SIMPLE. The acronym stands for Safety, Integrity, Mentoring, People, and Excellence. The three gentlemen conclude that going forward, they are determined to uphold these values and continue to keep the company’s name synonymous with respect and trust. “For us,” Brian says, “it is crucial that we form a strong relationship with the owner of every project, because when we work together as partners, that’s when we achieve the best results for them and the community.