Jamey Flannery learned recently that work her construction firm was scheduled to do on an affordable-housing project on St. Paul's University Avenue will be delayed a couple of months from its planned March start.
Fortunately for St. Paul-based Flannery Construction, there's plenty of other work on the agenda; a postrecession record $20 million worth of multifamily housing and commercial projects this year.
"Our leading indicator is architects and they seem busy," said Flannery. "It seems like another year or two of strength in our business."
Flannery, 38, started out cleaning up construction sites when she was a teenager. Last year, she bought her father's company. The deal made her one of the few female leaders of a Twin Cities construction outfit.
Business is a far cry better than it was during what proved a several-year Great Recession that shuttered a number of small construction firms and contractors. Flannery Construction cut its workforce and sustained itself thanks to stockpiled financial reserves and small affordable-housing rehab jobs.
It wasn't until 2011-12 that neighborhood housing and commercial jobs started to emerge, recalled Flannery.
Cindy Carlson, Flannery Construction's business banker at Western Bank for 30 years, said Jamey brings the same thoughtful, conservative, reinvest-in-the business style of her father, Gerry Flannery, 68.
"Gerry instilled attributes of thoughtful planning and patience," Carlson said. "Sometimes when people experience success they want to make some money and enhance their lifestyle and do ritzy things. Gerry tended to the business and plowed back earnings and created a strong working capital base."
Jamey Flannery's buyout is typical of the approach. The nearly $2 million price will largely be paid out of operating profits over the next decade.
Gerry Flannery was approached over the years by suitors that would have meant a fatter retirement. He'd been contemplating retirement but he liked the work and preferred that the business stay independent. A decade ago, Flannery built a headquarters at Hamline and Interstate 94, near the planned St. Paul soccer stadium and other developments. The $1.5 million development is growing in value.
"For three years the company had to carry the building, but now it cash flows thanks to tenant rents and that's a beautiful thing," Gerry Flannery said. "And I've got 60 parking stalls [for stadium events] that also are part of my retirement plan."
Jamey Flannery worked a number of jobs over the years, including operations chief. She and Gerry decided it was time for a deal last year.
"My dad created a good company, a good reputation and I didn't want to let it go," Jamey Flannery said. "And if he didn't think I was up to the task and the risk, then it wouldn't have been on the table for me."
Gerry Flannery was working construction in his hometown of Cleveland when he was drafted into the Army. He served in Vietnam in 1970-71, made sergeant and returned home after discharge. He bought a motorcycle and toured the country to clear the cobwebs.
Gerry visited a friend in St. Paul, where he intended to stay for a few months. He met Jean Henjum, a Macalester College graduate who would become his wife. They protested the war together with friends. Gerry worked for a few months as a service technician for the phone company before he and a couple of other guys who could swing a hammer started restoring old houses in Ramsey Hill in the mid-1970s.
He started Flannery Construction in 1980. Jamey, a St. Paul Central High grad who studied archaeology in college and worked a few years elsewhere, joined the firm 15 years ago. Her mom worked most of her career as a psychologist. Another sister is in software.
"We've had our ups and downs but the business is in good shape now," said Gerry, who's staying on as adviser for a few years. "I thought Jamey could do the job. And nobody has to wonder anymore what Gerry is going to do with the company. And being the old sage, I also get free coffee. I'm also learning to defer to Jamey. I'm now an at-will employee."
The Flannery business, which employs about 35, uses subcontractors more than it did before the recession. The company focuses mostly on affordable housing projects, often working with nonprofit developers. And small commercial developments.
Flannery Construction last year finished a $1 million-plus expansion and overhaul of the Birchwood Café that Tracy Singleton has owned for 20 years.
"Flannery was our partner and it all worked, despite the stress of all the decisions … and dealing with an old building," said Singleton of the restaurant that was once a dairy and employs 70 workers. "We expanded our menu, added seating inside and outside. And our business was up 30 percent last year."
Close collaboration between contractor and owner kept the restaurant open most of the time during construction.
Jamey said she loves refurbishing and building energy-efficient, "functional, attractive and innovative buildings. I enjoy making the process understandable and transparent to our customers. I like construction. At the end … you have something tangible to show.
"I've learned from my dad, who is my mentor, and I learned from the recession when everything was a big challenge."