Ashton Harper of Harco Constructors was astonished when his dad, CEO Chuck Harper, told him the family-owned general contractor was bidding on medical marijuana projects.
Harco was well acquainted with dealers, but not the kind purveying cannabis.
“There was a car dealership boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and that’s where Harco really first made a name for itself,” he said. “We got pretty dang good at doing those.”
The company on the edge of Maumelle has built about 30 dealer showrooms across the state, and its revenue has surged about fivefold over the past 10 years, Ashton Harper estimated.
Success led to other building niches for the firm, which Chuck Harper formed with his brother, Keith, more than 35 years ago. Soon Harco was building dental and radiology offices, schools, corporate headquarters and senior living facilities. “Most of our business is repeat business,” Harper added. “That doesn’t happen if you don’t have the owner’s best interest in mind.”
Still, medical marijuana?
“I thought my dad was joking,” he said. But Harco, which has about 25 employees and subcontracts trade work to a list of trusted companies, made it a specialty, and now it has built two of the state’s eight cultivation centers and is working on a third, in Lincoln County.
“It’s Carpenter Farms Medical Group in Grady, Arkansas, and I’m driving back from there now,” Harper said via hands-free mobile phone. “[Owner] Abraham Carpenter is a standup guy, and we want to have that facility open for him sooner rather than later.”
Carpenter’s family switched from row crops growing vegetables years ago with help from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s agricultural extension program.
Now, along with their watermelon, squash, cantaloupe and industrial hemp, the Carpenters will be cultivating high-quality medicinal marijuana. The setting will be a specialized structure with extra electrical power, high-tech climate and humidity controls and even higher-tech security, including 360-degree cameras and biometric access points.
The security contractor was Progressive Technologies, a Memphis firm with offices in Sherwood. Harper praised Harco’s other subcontractors, but was wary of naming any without giving them advance notice.
Harco plunged into medical marijuana construction by building Natural State Medicinals in White Hall, then putting up another complex grow house, Delta Medical Cannabis Co., in Newport. The company also built or renovated dispensary buildings for Purspirit Cannabis Co. in Fayetteville, Custom Cannabis in Alexander and Delta Cannabis Co. in West Memphis.
Harper spent part of his hourlong drive from Grady back to North Little Rock by describing Harco’s history, including its 1985 founding by his father and his uncle, Keith Harper, who died in 2020 after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Ashton Harper and cousins Niklas and Ryan Harper, Keith’s sons, are all project managers and estimators for the firm.
“My dad and uncle had grown up with their dad in construction, but they went out on a limb to do their own thing, with my father running the office side of things, with a good bit of estimating and face-to-face time with clients. My uncle was the general superintendent and ran things in the field, until his ALS diagnosis about 2018.”
Over the years, Harco developed a design-and-build method that sets the company apart from competitors and saves money for clients, Ashton Harper said. “A lot of contractors want a set of plans that are finalized, and they bid and build directly to that plan. We try to get with owners and architects on the front end, to give the owners exactly what they want at the most affordable price and ahead of schedule. We help form that with the owners from day one, and the results have been really good, particularly in the medical marijuana industry.”
The attention to front-end detail, as well as the cost advantages of plotting purchasing in advance, keeps customers coming back, and signals to entire industries that Harco is up to the challenge, Harper said. “We really try to take care of our clients, and that’s why so much of our work is return work. We’re not focused on immediate maximum profits, I can put it that way.”