Conway’s Nabholz Construction Corp. hammered out revenue that topped $1.1 billion during its most recent fiscal year. The financial feat, accomplished during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, marked a historic milestone for Nabholz as the company crossed the $1 billion threshold for the first time.
“That’s more than the combined revenue of the company from 1949 to 1993,” said Jake Nabholz, CEO of Nabholz Construction since 2022. “Now we do that every 11 months.”
The fiscal achievement comes two years shy of the 75th anniversary of the venerable commercial contracting firm founded by his grandfather, Arkansas construction legend Bob Nabholz, who died in 2002.
His startup business in Conway grew into one of the largest commercial contractors in the state before expanding into a regional player with 14 offices in seven states supported by a staff of nearly 1,400.
“It takes great talent and manpower to do the work,” said Charles Nabholz, chairman emeritus who joined his brother’s company full time after graduating from high school in 1954.
He remembers the company taking its first big step into commercial work more than 65 years ago by landing its first million-dollar project: building the Arkansas Children’s Colony in Conway. Charles Nabholz said more than a few questioned whether the size of the state-bid contract was beyond the company’s capabilities. “Is Nabholz big enough to do this project?” was a common refrain during the vetting process, he said.
Construction of the state-supported residential school for developmentally disabled children started in 1958 and was completed in 1959. Winning the contract to build the facility, now known as the Conway Human Development Center, was recognized as a momentous occasion for Nabholz Construction.
“We celebrated that day and had a big celebration after the project was completed,” said Charles Nabholz.
The Arkansas Children’s Colony contract served as a door-opener for the company to move into commercial construction and primed the pump for a pipeline of million-dollar projects in the decades that followed. Annual revenue was $12 million in 1972 when Bill Hannah, part of a cadre of construction management graduates, joined Nabholz after college.
He recalls talking with Bob Nabholz during the late 1970s about career possibilities with the company. At the time, Hannah was a project manager attracting job offers from competitors.
“I love it here, but give me a hint about my future,” Hannah said at the time. “He told me ‘You’re going to have opportunities. I can’t tell you exactly what those opportunities are, but you will have opportunities.’ That satisfied me.”
Hannah had no idea that 25 years later a series of advancements would position him to become the first CEO of the company not named Nabholz. Promoted to corporate president in 1996, he served as CEO in 2002-12.
Hannah said a pivotal point in the company history came in 1980 with a $14.5 million contract at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Completed in 1982, the 160,000-SF expansion set Nabholz Construction on a new trajectory of growth.
“When it was done, we never stopped working there,” Hannah said of the company’s ongoing work at the Little Rock hospital over the years. “That was a huge resume builder for our health care work. That set us on a path to be a health care contractor. That’s such a big part of what we are now.”
A decade later in Hot Springs, Nabholz oversaw construction of the opening phase of St. Joseph’s Mercy Health Center campus, a $48.8 million project that encompassed a 385,000-SF hospital with a 292-bed patient tower and 131,00-SF medical office building.
In 2008, Nabholz was back at Arkansas Children’s Hospital breaking ground on a four-story, 258,000-SF expansion worth $84.8 million, part of a growing roster of health care work.
Over the years, the company broadened its foundation of talent and leadership, helping it transition from a small family business to a large multifaceted venture.
“We’re employee owned,” said Jake Nabholz, the only member of the Nabholz family on the company’s 10-member executive leadership team. “A lot of people think we’re family owned.”
Of today’s 92 corporate shareholders, 10 are members of the Nabholz family. Among those shareholders is Greg Williams, chairman of the board.
He joined Nabholz Construction as a controller in 1991, a year after the company first hit the $100 million revenue mark. Williams was promoted to chief financial officer in 1994 and succeeded Hannah as CEO in 2014-21.
On his watch, the company expanded into the railroad services business in 2019. That opened the door to building and servicing railroad and machine tool equipment for rail companies and transit systems.
“The design work is done in Oxford, Connecticut, which is also home to the maintenance crew,” Williams said. “The equipment is fabricated at our industrial services facility in Rogers and shipped as where needed. And that has literally been all over the country.”
Nabholz Construction’s energy performance and solar division, Entegrity, started as a partnership with Viridian in 2013.
“They did the design, and Nabholz did the installation,” Williams said. Nabholz became the sole owner of the energy services venture last year.
A sustainability and solar development company, Entegrity specializes in energy conservation and renewable energy projects including retrofitting heating and cooling units and lighting updates to reduce operating costs for clients.
“What separates us is the diversity, not just geographically, but diversity of services, so we’re not just a general contractor,” said Jake Nabholz. “And that diversity helps us whenever there’s a downturn.”
In addition to its core construction business, the company operates crane and equipment rental, custom fabrication and millwork as well as machinery moving, installation and service.
The infrastructure division encompasses road and highway construction, demolition, erosion control, grading, site concrete, paving, water utilities, sanitary sewer utilities and storm drainage.
Environmental hazard services include mold remediation, asbestos abatement, lead paint evaluations, environmental site assessments and more. Facility maintenance and repair services range from small handyman jobs to emergency work to renovations.
“He wanted to grow the company but wanted managed growth,” Charles Nabholz said of his brother, Bob. “That discipline has served the company well.”
Launched as a homebuilder that soon morphed into a commercial contractor, the company has established a legacy of training and developing in-house talent from entry-level employees through its apprenticeship program to managers through its leadership development programs.
“We realized the value of keeping our people,” Hannah said. “The companies that succeed are those who have and keep the best people.”
“My grandpa said it’s a people business,” Jake Nabholz said. “That will still hold true 75 years from now.”