James Benning, the new president of Knutson Construction, is working to leverage his real estate development and construction experience to spur growth for the family-owned, century-old firm in St. Louis Park.

Benning takes on responsibility for running Knutson from owner Steve Curry and Executive Vice President Dave Bastyr. Benning is the first nonfamily member to join the Curry family in leading the company.

"I can appreciate how a family-owned company thinks and how it cares for what they've been nurturing for years and all the people in the company," Benning said.

Early in his career Benning was vice president of a Spearfish, S.D.-based construction company that his father launched and later sold.

Benning most recently led construction for a mixed-use development company and a real estate development company, both in Indianapolis. He was responsible for construction of more than $900 million in mixed-use, multifamily, retail and commercial projects for those companies over the past five years.

Curry, who served as Knutson's president and CEO since 1992, chairs the company's new advisory board. Bastyr and a number of outside advisers also will join the board.

Curry's son John Curry was named Knutson's director of customer experience. The younger Curry joined the company in 2015 after a professional hockey career with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild organizations.

The company adopted the term "the Knutson Experience" in 2005 based on research into how clients and partners view working with Knutson and as a statement of what the company aspires to deliver, Steve Curry said.

"We want to fulfill the dreams of every employee, every client and every partner," Steve Curry said. "We want them to feel assured, inspired and appreciated."

Knutson, founded in 1911, offers pre-construction, design-build, general contracting and construction management services to customers in sectors including health care, hospitality, manufacturing, education and retail.

The company, with 375 employees, has additional offices in Rochester, Mankato, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Eau Claire, Wis.

Repeat customers include Mayo Clinic in Rochester and Treasure Island Resort & Casino. Past projects include the Target Field light-rail station and the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management building.

Q: How will your experience particularly in real estate development apply at Knutson?

Benning: My desire is to leverage the developer and capital relationships that I bring and that I believe will allow Knutson to better partner on developments. It can be hard for a contractor to understand to be the best partner with an owner especially on tough deals that require creativity to ensure that the development has the essential parts we can be proud of but then achieves the financial objectives of the deal.

Q: What led to Benning's selection to help lead Knutson?

Steve Curry: The thing that's intriguing about James is that he has a lot of new ideas that, melding with our leadership group, should help drive growth and drive continued new thinking. He's from a family business; that gives him a unique qualification. He has new ideas and different perspectives from his real estate background, which gives us a good opportunity.

Q: What is the advisory board's role?

Steve Curry: We're looking for an advisory board that would challenge the ownership group and challenge the management group to look at different things. [Members will include] people that have led organizations and see things that maybe Knutson can do differently.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is todd_nelson@mac.com.