Building on a Legacy
By Brad McEwen
While his teenage summers spent working construction weren’t necessarily filled with dreams of joining the successful company his grandfather help found in the late ‘70s, LRA Constructors Project Manager Jake Reese said a part of him always knew he’d eventually return to the Albany hometown that held such strong memories from his youth.
“Of course I grew up working summers starting when I was 15,” Jake told me recently when we sat down to discuss his passion for Albany and his decision to return home and join the family business that is celebrating its 40th year. “I still have some distinct memories of that now from 18 years ago.
“I don’t really know at what point I kind of knew this is what I wanted to do, but I went to college and majored in building construction and certainly had plans to be back in Albany at some point. I guess I struggled a little bit then with whether or not to stay in Atlanta, but I think I knew I’d be back in Albany at some point, so I thought why not go ahead and jump in.
While his decision to return to Albany after graduating from Georgia Tech included the practical aspect of having an opportunity to begin a career with a successful construction firm, it was also driven by the deep affection he has always held for this community—a devotion he said he’s sometimes frustrated that others don’t share.
“I think the negatives in Albany get talked about a lot,” Jake said. “For me, the way I was brought up, I felt like I always saw the positives. Without even thinking about it, that’s what it was.
“I think anywhere you are you’re going to find negatives, but Albany’s got a great mix of industry and a great quality of life. And think about all the recreational opportunities. Even with education, I think things are heading in the right direction there. I think there’s some good momentum, good things happening.
“We’ve got some good leaders in place, like the (Dougherty County Commission Chairman) Chris Cohilases of the world, people who have stepped up. Albany is a great place.”
It’s not surprising that Jake would touch on leadership and service as those are concepts whose roots run deep in his family and also permeate the company his grandfather Lamar Reese founded with Murray Webb back in the late 70s.
In fact, many of the values Jake holds are not only those shared by the company’s founders but also further engrained in LRA by long-time President and Co-Owner Ben Barrow and by LRA Secretary/Treasurer and Co-owner, Jake’s dad John.
“Obviously my grandfather (who served several years on both the Dougherty County Board of Education and the Dougherty County Commission, in addition to serving on countless other civic and charitable boards) was super involved,” Jake shared. “So I think with him, and with others, you recognize what people have done and the standard they’ve set. It forces you to consider what you can do personally to try to help. Certainly here, within this company, Ben and dad, each in their own way, have been involved and give back.”
It’s with that in mind that Jake said he tries to stay engaged in various things in the community while also prioritizing being a husband to Jamie and father to Carlyn and Suzanna.
Currently Jake serves on the board of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, serves as the President of the local Georgia Tech network, supports the Flint RiverQuarium and serves on the board of Easter Seals of Southern Georgia, among other things.
“I never really thought twice about it,” Jake said of his willingness to serve. “I think we all live and work here and I think we all have a responsibility to be involved in some way. There’s no right and wrong there; it’s kind of, if everybody chips in a little bit, we can make a lot happen.”
Although he’s certainly busy with those civic obligations and fulfilling his duties at home, Jake said he’s highly attuned to the many recent projects the LRA has been involved with.
For the better part of the last four decades you’d be hard pressed to travel around the Albany area without seeing the recognizable LRA Constructors sign planted firmly in front of an impressive new facility or bustling construction site—and that hasn’t changed in the least since Jake’s arrival.
Whether it’s projects like the remodeling of the new Albany Utilities building in downtown Albany, the complete makeover of Southside Middle School to transform it into the remarkable new Commodore Conyers College and Career Academy, or building an entirely new multi-purpose building for Central Baptist Church in Americus, Jake said the always busy LRA continues to be woven into the fabric of Southwest Georgia and remains at the forefront of growth and progress throughout the area. And in that he takes great pride.
“I guess on the construction side of things we’re working on a lot of different types of projects,” he said. “In this business you’re always doing something new, something different.
“Recent projects that we’re excited about, of course, include the Pretoria Field brewery, which was a tough project, if you will, just with the existing constraints and conditions downtown. But it turned out great. Another is the college and career academy. It’s enormous and of course that was a much-anticipated project. There was a lot of excitement around that.
“We just started last week on another project with the school system—the Magnolia Early Childhood Education Center, which is the old Magnolia Elementary School. It’ll house pre-K and Turning Point and then the Life Lab gifted center.”
Additionally, Jake said the company has also done a facility for Georgia FSIS in the Pecan Grove Industrial Park and an expansion for Woodford Plywood, just to name a few. And, Jake added, those projects include a wide variety of different types of construction.
“We’ve got a diverse range of projects,” he continued. “Of course we’ve got K-12, higher education, office projects, local privately owned projects. And of course health care.
“We stay pretty busy.”
Indeed, according to Jake the company has been consistently busy ever since Lamar and Murray started the company in the late ‘70s and almost immediately brought Ben and John into the fold.
“They started this company in 1978 and they called it Lamar Reese and Associates,” Jake explained. “My grandfather was a home builder—and ended up being a very successful home builder at that—and then of course Murray Webb was in real estate. I don’t know who convinced them to start a commercial construction company but they did.
“Murray and my grandfather they were well-respected, had good relationships and all that and they started the company and took a risk, but the day-to-day operations, they really weren’t ever involved in all of that.
“They had a guy briefly, I can’t think of his name, as a general manager. Then they met Ben—he was working for a steel company. Ben came on board, I think in ’79, then my dad—he’s a little bit younger than Ben—I think he came on in ’82.”
LRA saw success from the start, Jake said, emerging as one of Albany’s and Southwest Georgia’s most reputable construction companies, something he attributes to the values of its early leaders—values Jake believes LRA employees and the community in general hold dear.
“I think everyone around here has an appreciation for dad and Ben, for what they’ve done for 39, 40 years, the way they treat people,” Jake said. “Like I said, their reputation, the relationships (they’ve built), all that has played a huge role in getting the company off the ground and sustaining the company.
“They’ve set the bar high. I think it’s (about) building on what they’ve done. Certainly, obviously, I respect them. And I think, over time I realize more kind of the people they are. Obviously I’ve been in this business and dealt with a lot of people and you realize pretty quick that not all people are like that. Not everyone operates like that—treats people like they should. And again, not just in the construction business, which can be pretty cut-throat at times. There’s a lot of opportunity to blur the ethical lines, if you will.
“But they treat people the right way and I think the fact that we’ve got a lot of people that have been here 25, 30 years, that speaks to who they are.”
To further elaborate on how he views Ben and John’s legacy of treating people fairly and honestly, Jake talked about his first couple of years working for the company after graduating from Tech in 2007—which also happened to be the start of an intense recession that hit the construction industry very hard.
“Dad and Ben they could’ve done some things through that time that would’ve been more financially beneficial to them,” Jake explained. “Let me back up. Yes, in the construction industry that was a tough time. And I think like a lot of contractors, it strained us. We had to tighten some things up. But for them, they made the decision to keep everybody. Everyone who’d been with us, for the most part, stayed onboard.
“They decided, whether it cost them money or not, to keep everybody—the bulk of the company.
“From my standpoint, it’s funny because I graduated in ’07 and things were still rocking then and everybody I went to school with had multiple job offers. And of course Atlanta was booming. Then not long after, you had to scrap a little more to find projects.”
Despite the difficulty and uncertainty of those times, Jake said he has never regretted his decision to return to his hometown and that he truly cherishes being a part of the LRA team he really first joined as a teenager.
“It’s a lot of fun working here,” he said with a smile. “We’re a pretty tight group. We give each other a hard time on a very regular basis and to me it’s pretty neat. A lot of the people that are with this company I’ve known for as long as I can remember and I worked with some of them during those summers when I was 15, 16, 17—a lot of those people are still here.
“So, I mean it’s neat. Working with my dad, working with Ben, and obviously I’m excited to have my brother (Will Reese) back here working with us now, so that’s a good thing.”
Jake said he also gets excited when he thinks about the future and what the next 40 years looks like for LRA Constructors.
“We do work, obviously, in the state of Georgia, but we also work in Alabama and Florida as well,” Jake explained. “We’ve got lots of active projects. But I think for us, we’ll be more deliberately expanding our reach (in the coming years). I use the word deliberate because we’ve always been very deliberate about what we do and if we hire someone we want them to retire with us. That’s kind of been dad and Ben’s mindset.
“I also think we’ll be building on a lot of our existing client relationships to expand our reach. But Albany’s been home and I think for the foreseeable future we want to continue to have a significant impact here and build on that.
“We’ve got a lot on our plate so it’s exciting.”
For an Albany resident who shares Jake’s feelings about the community and is looking forward to a bright future for his family, listening to him discuss the core values about work, family and community he shares with men like Murray, Lamar, Ben and John, I too am excited about what lies ahead.
To know that this community counts impressive people like Jake Reese among its next wave of servant leaders, gives me great hope indeed. I have no doubt the next several decades will continue to be successful—not only for LRA Constructors, but for all of Albany and Southwest Georgia.
Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - firstname.lastname@example.org - @BradGMcEwen