Quality for Over a Century

Nielsen Builders

Nielsen Builders is a commercial construction company based in Harrisonburg, Virginia with a history of more than one hundred years serving clients in the region. The company specializes in large-scale commercial projects including elementary and secondary schools, universities, healthcare and assisted living facilities, warehousing, and more.
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Nielsen Builders has specialized divisions for both millwork and tilt-up construction. Its millwork division, known as Legacy, handles building cabinets, wall paneling, molding, and other architectural features that require milling. Additionally, TiltCon, its tilt-up construction division, combines the benefits of tilt-up concrete construction with a design-build approach to provide the best value to customers.

The company added these specializations after many years of hard work to fine tune its expertise in these fields. Legacy was not established until 2005, but the company had been doing millwork for sixty years prior to forming the division. TiltCon was officially established in 2014, yet the company had been doing tilt-up construction since at least 2000. Its extensive, century-long work in the construction industry has given it the knowledge that is a vital component of the company’s success.

Joseph Nielsen was a Danish immigrant who came to the United States from Denmark in 1902 at the age of seventeen. By 1908, he had put down roots in Roundhill, Virginia and opened his first company called J. Nielsen and Co., specializing in interior decorating and design. Nielsen worked diligently to follow opportunities that could help his company grow. He relocated first to Leesburg and finally settled in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 1917. From here, his dedication finally paid off, and business exploded.

In 1924, he purchased the foremost construction company in the region known as W. M. Bucher and Son. As a result of this acquisition, Nielsen was able to turn his design and decorating operation into an extremely capable construction firm. In 1961, after a long and successful career, Joseph Nielsen retired, but his legacy continues. After 110 years, Nielsen has become a leader in the region with more than four decades more experience than its closest competitors.

Today, Nielsen operates with just over 30 office personnel including project managers, estimators, and more and a further roughly seventy-five workers split between the field, yard and 15,000-square-foot mill shop.

The level of skill and experience displayed by Nielsen’s Legacy team is backed by the Architectural Woodwork Institution (AWI). The AWI quality certification is a challenging program and difficult to achieve. This industry-recognized tool for designers and building owners is used when choosing a firm for casework, cabinets, and other architectural woodworking, which enables the hiring party to confirm that a casework manufacturer uses quality materials, best practices, and qualified personnel. Through a comprehensive series of tests, AWI grades the quality of a company’s workmanship. Nielsen’s Legacy division passed the test and has been considered an AWI-certified shop for both fabrication and installation of cabinets and casework since 2001.

TiltCon, on the other hand, has received numerous awards from the Tilt Construction Association (TCA), demonstrating the quality of this company’s tilt-up concrete work. This annual achievement award is given to companies who build tilt-up construction projects that illustrate both the functionality and beauty that this concrete construction method is capable of producing. “To us, being recognized by the TCA more than once is extremely rewarding. The awards that we display in our headquarters prove our work goes above and beyond ordinary,” says Zach Lokey, business development representative at Nielsen.

Nielsen is built around a very family-oriented culture. “We all have a common ground of caring for one another,” says Lokey. “We know each other on a personal level.” The company’s workforce is made up of many long-term employees who are dedicated to high-quality work and customer satisfaction.

The employees care deeply about the success of the company because the company makes an effort to care for them. In 2007, Nielsen became an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) company, which means that the employees own stock in the company, giving them a vested interest and personal stake in each of Nielsen’s accomplishments. This has resulted in a highly productive workforce, determined to provide the best service possible.

Family values extend beyond the company and into the community, and community service is an important principle to the Nielsen staff and leadership. The company backs several local and national charities and encourages its employees to engage in community service wherever they can. Nielsen supports United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, On the Road Collaborative, Relay for Life, and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease and more.

“Around here there’s a big focus on being involved, supporting non-profits, and the businesses and organizations that are trying to do good and help out,” says Lokey. “Everyone in the company looks forward to working for a good cause. It’s something we take seriously.”

Nielsen has done work on many impressive, elite projects as the company’s reputation provides many interesting job opportunities. At James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Nielsen worked on an $82 million performing arts center. This project consisted of a 175,000-square-foot structure with concrete foundation, masonry bearing walls and a steel structural system. It was designed to include a recital hall, proscenium theater, dance theater, studio theater, concert hall, lobby, office, and more. The exterior of the building includes a facade of gorgeous bluestone veneer and beautiful aesthetic detailing.

In August of 2017, the company completed work on the Bluestone Elementary School in Harrisonburg. This was a $25.9 million build of a three-story, 100,000-square-foot pre-kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school. The structure is made of concrete and steel, and the facade is brick, bluestone, metal, and glass. The result is a showpiece that the company is quite proud to have on its resume. A main feature of this project is that it was designed to be net-zero-ready; solar panels mounted to the roof will be used to offset its energy expenses. These sustainability features were built into the initial design with a silver LEED certification in mind.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a rating system for the environmental sustainability of a building. Nielsen has worked on many LEED projects that have achieved the basic certification, silver level, or gold level distinctions. These qualifications can be difficult to obtain, but Nielsen has the understanding and proficiency to manage these intricate projects with great skill.

For smaller-scale jobs, the company has a small project division perfectly streamlined for renovations and smaller builds. This means that Nielsen is equipped to handle construction projects of any size from a small building renovation to giant structures that can cost many tens of millions of dollars. These jobs can include design/build services, where Nielsen experts will help from start to finish. They can also include construction management at-risk services, where Nielsen guarantees the budget and schedule up-front. The company will comply with LEED rules to make buildings sustainable and energy efficient and much more. “We’re not just a hammer and nail company,” says Lokey. “We can do a lot more.”

One of the primary issues for Nielsen – and companies throughout the United States – is finding qualified tradespeople. The company has been successful and continues to see an increase in workload, but finding people with the skills necessary to perform the work is an ongoing task.

“We have a lot of opportunities to bid,” says Jonathan Harrison, division manager at Nielsen, “but the biggest challenge is hiring enough qualified people to do quality work.” To mitigate this problem, the company focuses heavily on retention, through the ESOP program and a commitment to maintaining a positive work atmosphere.

For recruitment, the company works closely with local universities and the Massanutten Technical Center, a local vocational-technical school, to find interns. Zach Lokey sits on the foundation board and helps to connect the company with students. By setting up booths at career fairs and engaging young people on the topic of trades and the opportunities they open up, the company is working to raise interest in skilled work.

Over the course of its 110-year history, Nielsen Builders has built a solid resume of quality work by taking pride in every job. “We want to make sure the owners are happy so that we can be proud of the work,” says Lokey. “Nielsen has always been that way.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 18, 2019, 6:12 AM EST

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