US Builders Review                                                    

A & W Contractors Inc.

Building an Infrastructure for the Future
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

“When I wake up in the morning, I’m as excited as a kid on Christmas day,” says James (Jay) Archbell III, president of A&W Contractors Inc. (AWC), in regards to the excitement he feels about his profession. Jay has been working for the utility and road contracting business, founded by his father Sam Archbell, since he was 13, and holds the same enthusiasm today as he when he first stepped on a job site.

In fact, it’s enthusiasm for the “tasks at hand” that Jay perceives as the hallmark for the success of the firm. With corporate headquarters in Chesapeake, Va., AWC has been constructing throughout the Hampton Roads region since its beginnings, and the company continues to adhere to the precepts of integrity, and a commitment to customer service that makes AWC a preferred provider of a broad range of contracting services to companies, governmental agencies and private property owners in Virginia and North Carolina.

Serving Virginia for Almost 50 Years

Jay has been with AWC since 1972, and while his love of the job has only increased over the past four decades, he is committed to establishing an infrastructure within the business ensuring that his passion for success remains long after he’s gone.

“In my youth, I loved stepping on to any job site and just standing and being in awe of what was going on around me,” says Jay, reflecting on his early days working for his father. Sam incorporated the business in 1967, and managed the business for another 20 years until Jay became president. “I’ve been with AWC since I was 13; I really don’t know anything else,” says Jay, laughing. “It’s my first and only job.”

AWC employs 75 people and generates annual revenue commensurate with that staff level. While most businesses have recently downsized their workforces, AWC is expanding its service area and available services, enabling AWC to maintain its position within the Tidewater construction market.

The company has a diverse list of services it performs that assure AWC continues to succeed. “We perform a lot of municipal work – that would be rehabilitating older neighborhoods by providing new waterlines, sewer lines and roadways. On the private side, we develop raw land, for both residential and commercial use,” Jay reveals.

This diversity of client base and services offered has profited AWC well, Jay explains. “I feel we cover all the construction bases well. We’ve developed a reputation for both public and private work, and that's due in large part to a great group of employees that have been with me for a long time.”

AWC has been putting these services, along with an extensive in-house fleet of well-maintained heavy machinery, into use on a number of interesting projects around the Chesapeake area. “In the last six to eight months, we’ve been able to develop some apartment sites. That’s what’s been moving in this area. One was a 350-condo complex in Chesapeake, and another was a building with 191 luxury apartments,” Jay says. “In addition we’re in the process of putting proposals together for a 100-lot subdivision in Virginia Beach, and to place a new sewer line in existing neighborhoods in Norfolk.”

A Youth Movement to Lead AWC

Much of the credit for this wide range of activity is the fact that AWC has a core group of loyal, thoroughly trained employees. Recently, however, Jay has recognized the continuation of AWC will require the addition of a cadre of energetic individuals with a “thirst” for education and training, and a willingness to assume a leadership role after some extensive “on the job” experience.

A stellar example of Jay’s concept of “finding the right individual,” training them, and allowing them to progress as far as their capabilities will permit is Ian Hill. Hill came to Jay’s attention in 1996, and was offered a position as a plan takeoff person. Hill’s technical background made him a natural at engineering plan and specification dissemination. It became apparent Hill “hungered” to learn as much as Jay could teach him, Jay explains. Hill steadily progressed through Jay’s training program and is today a vice president with AWC.

Hill’s responsibilities include marketing AWC to private clients, bid quantity approval for public projects, day-to-day supervision for all field operations, invoicing and collections, and strategic planning for AWC asset acquisitions. Ian has Jay’s full confidence and support.

Hill is an example of a new generation of employee at AWC that Jay envisions assuming a leadership role and aiding in the continued growth of AWC. “I’m excited for the people that we have joining us, because this business that we’re in is a young person’s sport,” Jay explains. “The successful people in our industry are going to be young with a lot of fire in the belly who are not scared to get their hands dirty. They’re also going to be educated, whether it be in finance, mechanical engineering, or civil engineering, but their greatest quality is that they want to be doing this and have that desire.”

Jay is having his more seasoned employees mentor the new employees in every aspect of the business. “I want every new employee to go through every facet of this business,” Jay says. “It’s very important for a company to continue … once you get older, to bring in young energetic people that want to make things happen.”

Throughout these efforts, Jay recognizes he won't see results right away. However, he’s dedicated to building a new infrastructure for AWC, one that will keep it ahead of the demands of the profession. “In the next one to two years, we won’t see any significant revenue increase because of the decreased demands for our types of services. My goal right now is a five- to 10-year outlook,” he says. “I think that we’re going to be on the cutting edge in the next decade. I would be very surprised if we do not experience a dramatic increase in revenue, just because AWC will be positioned with a thoroughly trained staff.”

In truth, Jay himself has such a passion for AWC it would be enough for the entire company. His energy is infectious, and extends not just to his employees but to clients as well. With its enthusiastic staff and a commitment to fostering business relationships, A&W Contracting Inc. is positioned to be a leader in utility and road contracting for years to come.

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