Contractor to Contractor: JED Construction Co, Inc.
In June 1962, Erv Rung and two partners each put in $50 to buy their first mixer and went into business for themselves. Today Erv, with the help of four of his sons, is the sole proprietor of JED Construction Co, Inc. in Lincoln, Neb. JED employs more than 50 people.
Erv serves as the current MCAA State Chairman for Nebraska, and is the President of the local chapter of MCAA. He is the Current Secretary/ Treasurer of the Nebraska Masonry Institute (NMI) and past president of NMI. He is a member of the Lincoln Independent Business Association (LIBA) and has, in the past, served on the LIBA Board of Directors.
Masonry asked Erv Rung his opinion on a wide range of topics. Here are his views.
Masonry: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the masonry industry?
Rung: While there are a number of misconceptions plaguing the masonry industry, two seem to occur most often for us.
One is overhead cost. Many owners and lending institutions do not realize the amount of overhead that a commercial mason contractor has. It is not uncommon on commercial jobs for the mason contractor to own and have more equipment and personnel on the job than the general contractor. In many cases, the general contractor relies on the mason subcontractor to provide forklifts, scaffold and other equipment for them and other subs to use. Unfortunately, that translates into higher project costs for the owner on the masonry part of the job and can make masonry less attractive as a building alternative.
The other problem is when someone mentions masonry, they automatically tend to think of the standard brick and block. In fact, there have been so many advances in production technology that now there is a much greater spectrum of choices in textures, shapes, and colors of masonry materials than were available just 15 or 20 years ago.
Masonry: What would you do to change that misconception?
Rung: Education is the key. Try to educate the architects, owners and lending institutions about the actual costs involved. We have actually taken our personal banker to our job sites in order to give him a greater appreciation of what equipment is needed to run a successful project.
In an effort to educate the local architects, we've participated with material suppliers in holding hands-on workshops with architecture students and faculty from local colleges. We introduced them to the variety of masonry materials that are available. Letting them actually lift and place the material into a wall system also gives them a greater knowledge and appreciation of how different materials work together and of the masonry trade in general.
Masonry: What are your three biggest concerns in keeping your company successful?
Rung: Our local economy would probably be foremost. We were fortunate enough that we did not encounter a slowdown in available work after the September 11th attacks. And so far, we haven't seen any indication that a slowdown is coming in the near future. That doesn't mean it can't happen. We must not assume that the current level of activity will continue but we hope that it will at least stay the same or get better.
Second would be safety. Our people are our greatest asset. Without them, we couldn't do what we do, so it's imperative that we provide them a safe working environment. We take great pride and go to great expense in making sure our equipment is well maintained, our people are trained in safety procedures, and our safety program is closely followed.
Third would be insurance costs. Since the beginning of the year, we've seen insurance rates increase two-fold and, in some cases, we've seen contractors that are being dropped altogether. This unfortunately creates an increase in labor burden and overhead for the contractor, making it even more difficult to remain competitive in the bidding process. Unfortunately, that translates into higher prices for both goods and services to the customer.
Masonry: What do you feel is the industry's biggest challenge in the near future?
Rung: Recruiting and training new bricklayers to replace an aging and retiring workforce. As more and more young people are pursuing a college career in lieu of vocational skills, we need to find ways to attract more young people to the trade. We have participated in the SkillsUSA program with high schools throughout the state of Nebraska and we have participated in a number of apprenticeship programs jointly with other contractors.
Masonry: Where do you think the masonry industry is going to be 10 years from now?
Rung: As long as we can attract new people to the trade, I think the industry will continue to thrive. I do, however, think that the older and more established companies will have an easier time than a new evolving company simply because of the cost of the equipment that is now needed just to be competitive.
Masonry: What do you think will be the masonry industry's biggest competitor in 10 years?
Rung: There are so many potential competitors today that it is really hard to say what will be the biggest in 10 years. We have seen a number of new, less expensive systems introduced that try to replicate or place masonry, and some of them have shown initial success. However, as time has gone on, we have also seen problems and failures with some of these new systems. In some cases, the cost to correct the problem has outweighed the initial savings. Because of this, I believe the insurance industry has shied away from providing the contractor coverage on some of these systems. I also believe that owners and architects are realizing that there is no substitute for the time-tested materials of masonry.
Masonry: What do you feel are the most critical issues you'll face with regard to future government regulations?
Rung: Foremost would be ergonomic legislation and OSHA regulations. Tighter restrictions, overzealous regulations, and stricter penalties have made some masonry applications impractical, too costly, or non-competitive to use. We can't become complacent. It's not enough to keep abreast of the issues that will affect our industry, we need to keep in contact with our representatives in Washington and keep them current on the state of our industry.
Masonry: Which group do you feel has the bigger impact on masonry's future: architects, engineers or general contractors?
Rung: I believe the key will be with the architects and engineers. It is essential that we educate the new and upcoming architects and engineers as to the versatility and uses of masonry, both structurally and esthetically. Promoting the masonry industry through student programs that encourage hands-on participation will help alleviate any lingering misconceptions and open their eyes to a thriving industry.
Masonry: What do you like most about being a member of MCAA?
Rung: The MCAA represents our industry as a whole. It is a great organization that allows me to meet fellow members, and provides us all an opportunity to discuss common problems and issues that affect our business and the industry.
About the Author
Masonry, the official publication of the Mason Contractors Association of America, covers every aspect of the mason contractor profession - equipment and techniques, building codes and standards, business planning, promoting your business, legal issues and more. Read or subscribe to Masonry magazine at www.masonrymagazine.com.