Small Towns Provide Success and Opportunities
A. R. Chesson Construction
From its headquarters in Williamston, NC, A. R. Chesson Construction has been offering full construction services to clients throughout the mid-Atlantic region since 1981, building up an impressive safety record and remaining responsive to the communities it serves.
“It’s a real privilege to work with A. R. Chesson Construction and quite frankly a joy,” says Anne-Marie Knighton, Town Manager of Edenton, NC. “They are professional, they are smart, and they deliver a great product.”
And deliver A. R. Chesson Construction continues to do. With $16 million worth of construction projects either recently completed or breaking ground in Edenton, the company, founded by president and owner Al Chesson in 1981, is sensitive to the needs of small communities. “We want to make a positive difference in the footprint and the landscape,” Chesson says, referring to work the company has done in both the historic center, such as the intricate Flemish bond brick and white colonnaded addition to the 1817 Edenton Baptist Church, new distribution centers and manufacturing facilities in the surrounding industrial areas, and volunteer projects designed to give back to the community.
Speaking of engaging with the broader community, there is also the proactive stance the company takes toward employment opportunities for minority groups. “We like to think of ourselves as being representative of the population,” Chesson says, noting that twenty percent of its employees are women, unusual in a workforce that remains dominated by men. “And we are proud to have smart, capable and talented women working with us. They do a wonderful job and they’re great team members.”
Named by Forbes as “One of the Prettiest Towns in America,” Edenton (population 5,500) is located at the mouth of the Roanoke River on Albemarle Sound. Founded in 1712, it’s the first permanent European settlement in what is now the state of North Carolina.
Its historic district contains the Lane House (1719), the oldest known house still in existence in the state; St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (1736); the Chowan County Courthouse (1767); and the Barker House (1783), which commemorates the life of Penelope Barker, the first recorded female political protester. In 1774 she organized the “Edenton Tea Party” in which 51 women petitioned George III, saying ‘No’ to taxes on tea and cloth.
A. R. Chesson Construction’s involvement with Edenton dates to the mid-1990s, and includes serving in 2012 as the general contractor for the restoration and relocation of the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse, the last remaining screw-pile lighthouse in North Carolina. After it was decommissioned, it sat neglected on land, in a state of disrepair, but it’s now situated once again on piles within the harbor breakwater and managed as a tourist attraction by the Edenton Historical Commission.
“We don’t tend to build new in the historic district,” Knighton explains. “We tend to restore and repurpose. But our new police station was a special project and Al and his team were great to work with. It was under budget and finished on time and a real asset to our police department, the town and the neighborhood in which it’s located.”
“There’s a need to walk the fine line between balancing growth and development opportunities while at the same time protecting the historical character of our small towns,” explains Mitchell Ayers, the company’s technology specialist and one of four staff designers. “We consult with planning officials to make sure our designs work with their requirements and are sensitive to its historic nature.”
The 9,940 square foot police building, a mix of structural steel, metal studs and brick veneer, designed by Oakley Collier Architects, Rocky Mount, NC did just that. But while the exterior is traditional in appearance, the interior is a thoroughly modern facility.
One million employee hours, no lost days
Not only was Knighton thrilled with the result, she was thrilled when Chesson requested the police station job site as a venue to celebrate the company’s safety record of one million employee hours with no lost days due to accidents or injuries. The award was presented by the North Carolina Commissioner of Labor and it was inspiring, she says. “It motivated us as an organization and as an employer to work harder on our own safety programs for our employees. I think it’s enormously impressive.”
In addition to that milestone record, the company is looking forward to receiving its 13th Consecutive Gold Award for Safety in April. Chesson is rightfully proud of those accomplishments and the culture of safety the company has developed. “We have a full-time safety officer and he’s informed and constantly updating us with safety procedures, operations and inspections, so safety becomes an expectation. Our employees and our sub-contractors are using tools, up on lifts and scaffolds; it can be dangerous work, so it’s something we take seriously. We want to prevent people from getting injured so day-to-day training is mandatory.”
Constructing facilities for a viable economy
While Edenton enjoys its ‘prettiest town’ reputation, it’s more than just a pretty face. It’s a hard-working town whose manufacturing and distribution centers located outside the historic area are growing and providing employment, thanks to a combination of five major projects which were either completed in the last 12 months or will be completed by the end of 2018 by A. R. Chesson Construction.
There’s the Colony Tire Headquarters competed in 2017, a 6,827 square foot design-build pre-engineered metal building which Ayers describes as a “combination of EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System) with metal stud interior and cultured stone exterior.” Adjacent to it will be the new Colony Tire Distribution Center which broke ground in February.
Close by is Regulator Marine which, since 1988, has been building deep-vee console sport fishing boats up to 41 feet long and selling them worldwide. “We’ve been working with them for a while,” Ayers says. “We currently are working on three design-build projects to expand their existing facilities. We are adding a new 12,000 square feet pre-engineered metal storage building, adding nearly 35,000 square feet to an existing structure to house their new assembly process, and expanding their lamination facility by 8,000 square feet.”
Owen Maxwell, Vice President Product Development at Regulator, says that business leaders in Edenton are committed to maintaining a strong economy by providing good employment in rural eastern North Carolina. Likewise, small communities like Edenton can provide the opportunity, resources, and employees to allow businesses like Regulator and Colony Tire to thrive.
Adjacent to Edenton’s historic area is a 20,455 square foot design-build project to replace the Kellogg Supply Company (motto: “Everything to build anything”) which was destroyed by fire on October 26, 2016. Fortunately no one was inside when the fire started, however the 70-year old building and all contents were lost. “Once again, we worked with the town planners to make sure the design fit into the character of the area that surrounds the building,” Chesson says. While it will be a pre-engineered metal building on a concrete slab it will have a cementitious horizontal siding façade in keeping with local traditional building finishes.
“In all of our design-build projects, we take a common sense, practical approach to green building and energy efficiency and we apply green technology appropriately, making it cost-effective for the owners to operate,” Chesson adds.
Just outside the town and presently under construction is the Chowan County Maintenance Assembly Office, a North Carolina Department of Transportation building. Like the police department, this was a publicly bid job with Chesson awarded the contract.
The Town of Edenton, through its continued relationship with A. R. Chesson Construction, has managed to realize the best of both worlds. Its cherished historic ambiance is being preserved while at the same time, there is growth and development and employment opportunities. Instead of disappearing as so many small towns across North America are doing, Edenton has bucked the trend and proved to be the exception. And in addition to that, neighborly helpfulness is flourishing.
Habitat for Humanity
Sally Holloway, president of Chowan-Perquimans Habitat for Humanity (HFH), echoes Knighton when she describes working with A. R. Chesson Construction’s staff. “What a joy!” she says, recalling how the company chose to partner with HFH two years ago and has since volunteered to erect two houses, one in Edenton and the other in the neighboring county.
“We order kits, not pre-manufactured houses,” Holloway says, “and normally it takes our HFH volunteers weeks to put up because it’s heavy work. The kit has gotten heavier because the codes have changed. They used to be 2 x 4s but now they’re 2 x 6s, so that makes it a lot heavier for our people because most of us are retirees,” she explains.
“But A. R. Chesson Construction came in with their crew of volunteers, people with the expertise to make sure it was done safely and properly. Al was leading by example, up on the roof, and to have a president and owner do that is quite incredible. They had that house framed in a day, including installing the house wrap and putting the wood sheathing on the roof so it was secure, and it was done on one of the hottest days of the year,” she shares.
“It was like in the Wizard of Oz. You blink, and a house appears on the ground. The homeowner told me she drove past the site on her way to work in the morning and there was just the slab foundation and when she came home the house was standing. She called it miraculous and says for her and her two children it’s like coming home to Christmas every day.”
A good decision
Chesson graduated in 1977 from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. “I was intending to be a banker or stockbroker when I went to college,” he recalls, “but I’d worked my way through high school and college working construction. Construction sort of gets in one’s blood and I decided I liked it a lot better than sitting in an office.” After working for a few years as a construction site superintendent, he says, “I decided in 1981 to hang out my own shingle.”
People in North Carolina are glad he did.