Nearly two centuries ago, one of Brad Campbell’s ancestors – Chief Notchininga, also known as No Heart or No Heart of Fear – helped draw up tribal maps during treaty discussions with the U.S. government. Today, he is the Chief Executive Officer and principal owner of Bear Claw Construction Management, LLC, a Native American-owned business devoted to superior service, hard work, and assisting tribal communities. The company marks the start of its tenth anniversary this fall by showcasing an impressive portfolio of completed projects and a growing workforce.
“I’m truly blessed to have had great partners along the way – Doug Hoffman, Ed Taylor, Sam Petrie and Jason Young – that believed in the vision and worked side by side to accomplish where we are today,” states Campbell.
Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, Bear Claw Construction Management offers pre-construction, general contracting, and disaster recovery work, with general contracting being the largest segment.
“We do some residential, but we’re predominantly commercial. Much of our residential work is done throughout Indian country. We’re not known as a homebuilding firm by any means, but we have services to help out on the residential side. We work with Tribal Housing Authorities across Indian country,” states Campbell.
While Bear Claw typically subcontracts around ninety percent of its work out, the company’s on-site supervisors and project managers are “all in-house, full-time people with us,” he adds.
Preconstruction work can consist of site assessments, initial project costing, and budgeting and architectural reviews. “We want to start out from the very beginning with the client – with their architectural and engineering partners – in assessing the site. Then, we take a look at what the costs are, look at budgets, and offer insight into the project from a general contractor’s perspective from the beginning,” explains Campbell.
Preconstruction work might also involve value-engineering, a service which entails finding creative yet less-expensive building options that do not compromise the quality of the project. Bear Claw does not do design work but is closely aligned with architectural firms that can provide such services if needed.
General contracting projects can range from multi-family residences to commercial structures, restaurants, healthcare facilities, and retail outlets. Construction clients can also benefit from having the company prepare a disaster recovery plan in case insurance related issues happen to the properties: flooding, hail, fire et cetera. Such plans include notes about electrical systems, staging areas, water turn-off valves, and other essential details. Should a problem occur, clients can get in contact via a 1-800 number.
“If a property manager is hit by, say, a bad hail storm or they have a fire or major water issues, they can call that 800 number 24 / 365, and we automatically dispatch one of our subcontractors within a few hours. Once they are dispatched, a project manager is put en route to the property and gets onsite to help board things up, fence things up, talk to an insurance adjuster. We handle [things] all the way through the insurance process to the final build back,” explains Campbell.
Bear Claw has a presence in over forty states and has “worked all the way from California to Virginia to Florida and Montana. We’ve pretty well crossed the U.S. completely,” he states proudly.
That said, most projects are carried out in the Midwest region, including Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. So far, the company has not done any projects in Canada or Mexico, although it is not averse to taking on international projects in the future.
Campbell is a proud Tribal member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and hails from the Bear Clan. “My great-great-great grandfather was Chief No Heart. He worked with the Jackson and Van Buren [presidential] administrations and drew the first Great Plains tribal maps. We are very proud of our rich heritage,” he states.
As a reflection of this pride, the company does quite a bit of work with tribal communities. “We’re always looking at growing our footprint within Indian country. We’ve done work throughout Indian country from Washington into the Midwest, from the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma to Minnesota and Montana,” says Campbell.
He cites a tribal project in Oklahoma involving an apartment building that “was the first HUD Title VI project,” in that state. The Oklahoma project exemplified Bear Claw’s commitment to its tribal heritage. The collaborative effort involved the company, the Sac & Fox Nation Housing Authority (SFHA), local officials, staff from Oklahoma bank BancFirst, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Together, these groups secured a HUD Title VI guaranteed loan to build a twenty-three-unit apartment building in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The $2.5 million construction cost was covered by the HUD loan and funds from the SFHA annual Indian Housing Block Grant.
“Title VI is an effective public investment tool that HUD offers to federally recognized tribes and Tribally Designated Housing Entities (TDHEs). It provides an additional source of financing for affordable tribal housing activities,” explains HUD information.
Many tribal communities have a Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO), says Campbell, adding that the company works closely with TERO officials “to make sure we identify potential native subcontractors and laborers.”
Bear Claw will be starting its tenth year this fall, a remarkable achievement given that the firm was launched amid a terrible recession. Campbell says he was guided by his religious faith and confident that all would work out, despite the dismal economy.
“I think a lot of people thought, why in the world are you starting a construction company in that time? I felt the Lord was opening up doors for us to go into this space and work within Indian country. It was definitely a struggle, however,” he recalls.
For Campbell personally, the biggest struggle in the company’s early days was dealing with being away from his family – for the first year – for extended periods of time. His family lived in Southern Missouri, and he only saw them on weekends as he worked to build the company in Kansas City. He and his wife will celebrate their thirty-first anniversary this October with four children in the family.
From the start, Campbell wanted to “grow and build the firm’s services to prove we could compete as a quality commercial general contractor not relying on its Native/MBE certifications,” he recalls. He wanted the public to regard Bear Claw as a competitive contractor that stood on its own feet but could offer strategic partnerships when needed on public or Tribal projects. “This goal has been met with intentional efforts from partners, our great employees and quality leadership throughout the organization.”
One recent, intriguing assignment was working for a client developing a private brand Chicken-N-Pickle, “a quality yet unique restaurant that also has indoor/outdoor pickleball courts, rooftop bar and family yard games – it is now a location for national pickleball competitions,” he says, noting that, “It was an honor to be chosen as the general contractor for such a wonderful project.” Pickleball is a paddleball sport similar to tennis.
The combined dining and entertainment Chicken-N-Pickle facility in North Kansas City also features opportunities for lawn games. The owners plan to rollout Chicken-N-Pickle locales all across the country, says Campbell who adds that the company is also “very thankful for the opportunity to work with other national brands such as Walgreen’s, Burger King, MAXUS Properties and Concentra nationwide.”
All this hard work is starting to pay off in a major way. Bear Claw was listed at number twenty-one on the 2017 Corporate Report 100 compiled by Kansas City’s business publication Ingram’s Magazine. The company made the list in part because of its average annual growth rate of seventy-six percent. And it continues to grow, currently having forty-two full-time employees, up from roughly thirty last year at this time. 2019 has now recently brought recognition to Bear Claw with a “Best In Business” award from Ingram’s Magazine. Campbell says a strong economy is driving this expansion.
Given the increase in personnel, Bear Claw has stringent prerequisites for new hires. “For us, everything starts with character and integrity first. We look for confident individuals, but we want to make sure they are team-oriented. We want them to have the ability to be creative in whatever assignment they’re given and be able to solve problems effectively and efficiently,” he explains. “We know there will be issues and problems with employees and subs. We just want to make sure when there is an issue or a problem, that character and integrity shines through.”
Bear Claw’s corporate culture centers on those same values, he continues. Character, integrity, honesty and transparency are integral to everything it does.
The construction trade can be a dangerous business, so it is not surprising that Bear Claw takes safety very seriously. It works with third-party safety officials and “is always looking to develop our own, in-house safety procedures,” says Campbell. Safety training is emphasized, and the company wants to ensure everyone – employees, subcontractors, and clients – get home at the end of the workday safe.
The company mainly relies on developing relationships to promote its services, attending conferences and belonging to various associations representing restaurants, commercial real estate, and minority business enterprises (MBEs). Being actively involved in such groups is key to promoting what Bear Claw has to offer, along with repeat business from trusted clients, he explains.
“Strategically, the first phase of the company was to become a competitive commercial contractor, and I feel we’ve done that successfully. Over the last year-and-a-half, we’ve really begun to lay the foundation [for the next phase by] working with specific public developers, building relationships within the federal space, developing strategic relationships with larger general contractors, and developing relationships to be a good partner for minority business participation,” he states.
Campbell sees Bear Claw doing bigger projects and more work for federal clients in the future, without abandoning core principles.
“We want to make sure we continue to be a creative and effective partner with our clients, while growing an honest and safe company for our employees. We want to stay true to our core values,” he says.