Building on a Legacy

James White Construction
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

James White Construction (JWC) is a mid-sized, family-owned-and-operated site work and utility contractor serving the Tri-County region of Greater Charleston, South Carolina. The firm is highly sought after for its reputation and commitment to delivering results for its valued client base. Relationships are the foundation of its success.

Founded in 1981 by Mr. James White, JWC has grown from a company with roots in rural and suburban custom-home site work and small commercial projects to include larger, more complex commercial, residential, and industrial, site work, and utility construction, a legacy that will be preserved by the next generation at all costs.

“That legacy gives us another level of care, a legacy that you have to protect. That brand is not something that you earn, it’s something that you live up to and being that his name is on the door and will continue to be on the door, we wear that as a badge of honor,” says owner Dan Hankins, who assumed leadership of JWC in March. “That guides our every decision.”

Highly regarded for its keen leadership, astute attention to detail, and solution-based management, JWC is equipped with a full complement of resources, crews, knowledge, experience, professionalism, and wherewithal to get even the most complex job done on time, on- or under-budget and to a client’s satisfaction. Repeat and referral business is what keeps the firm busy year after year.

“We’re negotiating most of our work from repeat business or referrals from other general contractors and developers who enjoyed working with us and appreciate our work,” says Hankins, which is why the company has enjoyed such a long, rich, and successful history.

Being the first on site, JWC sets the tone for a project in terms of standards of quality, safety and timelines, something that the company’s leadership takes seriously. To ensure the strength of the company and the ability to deliver consistent results, its capabilities grew out of necessity. Resources were added and services were expanded to overcome challenges and ensure optimal project outcomes.

As Hankins notes, “It was a real impediment for us to get our utilities installed. Sewer and water are the first two things to go in on a site, and for a company our size to get subcontractors to get on schedule or even quote was very difficult.” As a result, JWC added a utility division to better control project timelines and reinforce the reputation for quality it has earned over the last four decades.

JWC is one of the few firms left in the Charleston area that can deliver stormwater systems that meet the highest standards when they’re put under the microscope, and that’s because of the time, care, and effort JWC takes to succeed, regardless of the challenges of the project.

“We know intense municipality / agency scrutiny is going to impact our schedule and we take a six-sigma approach to doing things safely and correctly the first time. Do it right—sleep at night,” says Hankins of JWC’s commitment to quality and safety.

To ensure projects are completed to the highest standards possible, JWC relies on GPS location technology, machine-control technology, and total station LPS technology. Keeping technology up-to-date is key to the company’s success and competitiveness. Technology, communication, and skilled onsite field personnel minimizes potential punch lists and unnecessary re-work.

“That’s brought us a lot of work where other people just won’t bid it. They’re too big to manage the small things and we’re small enough to listen and big enough to perform,” says Hankins. This has allowed the company to carve out its own niche in the market for its solution-based construction services.

This year, JWC celebrates 40 years in business, an impressive feat. Surviving numerous economic downturns, it has proved itself recession-proof, backed by the integrity and legacy that Mr. White spent decades building. Though Mr. White has taken a step back, retiring in March of this year, he is still present and available—an invaluable resource.

Taking the company into the future, Hankins is committed to paying homage to past success and building on the legacy of his stepfather, preserving the name, the brand, and the reputation JWC has earned throughout the last four decades.

Having grown up around the business, first during summer breaks, weekends, and holidays as a child, and later as an adult, he took time out to tread his own path, but later found his way back to JWC, something that’s very meaningful to him.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” says Hankins of being asked to join forces with Mr. White. “There were a lot of great synergies with what I had grown up doing and it gave me an opportunity, in a legacy business, to help my parents and all the customers that were involved with the business, and perpetuate it.”

Hankins saw it as a perfect opportunity to build a team and grow a company that had provided him so much, and it’s his long-term intention to grow that success and afford that bounty to generations of workers to come.

The company lives out its mission every day: “We build people that build jobs.” The people at JWC do what they say and stand by the work they do, a level of integrity that stems from the foundation Mr. White instilled.

The team at JWC understands that they have a hand in building the place they call home. Everyone is local to the area, generating great pride when a job is completed safely and to the highest standards. This is the drive that fuels the company’s exceptional performance.

“We want to be proud of the work we do and be able to take our kids to it, show them we did it and then go and do twenty more,” says Senior Vice President Jamie Lewis. For the team at JWC, it’s about more than just construction; it’s about doing good work on and off the job site.

JWC does a lot more than just provide construction services. It works to make the world a better place, inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, which is better known as “The Man in the Arena.” Service above self is an attitude present in all that the company does, and also present is the belief that Mr. White, himself, was the Man in the Arena.

As Roosevelt intoned, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The approach to life that Hankins was taught runs deep at the company: “Doing good, planting seeds, tending to our crops, and appreciating the rewards of the harvest that we get. That tenfold blessing that we treat people by, we believe it comes back. We always trust people. We try not to be cynical. We try to understand that family is first, and we lean that way. Obviously, there is a job to be done but God is first, family is second and JWC is third,” he shares.

As a firm with 40 years behind it, JWC is astutely aware that it needs to evolve with the times, from a technology, workforce, and market perspective. The goal is to remain a top employer, stay ahead of the market in terms of skills, wages, and technology, and continue to deliver exceptional results on every project undertaken.

“Obviously, the long-term goal is to perpetuate the legacy of Mr. White,” says Hankins of the man who raised him, the Man in the Arena who set the foundation for the culture, and the brand that has become synonymous with quality, safety, excellence, and a love for humankind. “His essence is the legacy. He has run this with dust on his brow, with busted knuckles and hard work, and all the things that go into making the effort to have something,” Hankins says.

“We’re upholding a culture that he’s created. It’s our turn to carry the torch, but we’re standing on the shoulders of giants and he’s the catalyst to all of that,” concludes Hankins, clearly proud of how far JWC has come and optimistic about where it will go under his leadership.

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