Four Generations and Counting

McKnight Construction
Written by Pauline Müller

It’s not always easy to find construction teams that deliver outstanding quality alongside family values. After over sixty years in construction, McKnight Construction Company in Augusta, Georgia knows nothing beats dedication and craftsmanship, and doubling its revenue in only two years proves it.

This award-winning firm has served clients across United States’ southeast for four generations, building longstanding relationships through serving communities in Georgia and South Carolina. With hands-on management, McKnight Construction specializes in capabilities ranging from enormous commercial projects worth hundreds of millions to smaller, tailor-made buildings.

Trusted by local and federal governments as the best in construction management, bid-build, and design-build services, McKnight Construction has built everything from barracks and tank ranges to libraries, schools, and courthouses. The company’s leadership goes out of its way to ensure it guides owners through every phase of their property development projects with integrity and care. Through asking the right questions, clients’ needs are explored and clarified so that the company can deliver every expectation.

Thanks to its diverse and growing list of services, the company has seen unprecedented growth during some of the worst global economic pressures of modern times. “Because we have these great relationships in the communities we serve, and we have the high quality products that we build, we feel it is an obvious next step to expand into new industries in the communities we already serve,” says Blakely Downs, Vice President and Director of Marketing.

These new projects include healthcare facilities in regions where the company is historically known for building schools. One example is Augusta’s new Via Cognitive Health Center that, once complete, will be a care provider for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. This state of the art facility will combine healthcare with lifestyle activities to provide a well-rounded safe haven for its patients.

Another feather in its cap came when the company, working with a local partner, was awarded the Construction Management contract for the Bell Auditorium renovation project that kicked off in the last quarter of 2022. This historic building is home to the community’s entertainment complex in downtown Augusta, and the McKnight team is honored to contribute.

“We are excited about bringing this to the community because it is something we need, and it is going to be a beautiful building in the end,” says Jane Marie Kinsey, Vice President and Business Development Officer.

The project was also another opportunity to focus on employing local contractor partners, which is something the leadership team takes seriously. This is just one way in which McKnight prioritizes helping local communities and economies where its projects are located.

A third new project is the Discovery Center that McKnight is building in Augusta, Georgia for Junior Achievement USA, an international nonprofit organization focusing on developing life skills in young people. This exciting project is being built in collaboration with the Richmond County School System and Columbia County School District, both longtime partners of the company.

Together, these three new projects represent everything for which the McKnight Construction team stands: cultivating long-term relationships for repeat business; applying diverse skills to equally diverse and quality products; and benefiting the communities they serve.

A past project that was a source of great pride and joy for the team and its clients is Apparo Academy. The Augusta school provides education and clinic-based therapy for higher needs children aged six weeks to seven years old. Apparo means ‘to shelter,’ which is precisely what the school does. Apart from offering therapy and daycare, the school also prepares the students for their next level of education in a safe environment where they can expand their knowledge and capabilities.

Another interesting project McKnight recently completed is located in Charleston, South Carolina, which is a community McKnight has continuously served. The Cooper River Center for Advanced Studies is an 83,000 square foot K-12 facility delivering advanced career and technology courses for as many as 600 ninth to twelfth-grade students looking to improve their career prospects.

“We don’t just complete this diverse portfolio of projects—we successfully deliver on time and on budget and also have our clients give tremendous recommendations and come back to us for more services. That is something that we are proud of. And that’s what allows us to keep growing,” says Kinsey.

McKnight’s contribution to the health of its communities is so much more than just charitable. Everything McKnight does makes Georgia and South Carolina a better place to be. As the two leaders point out, every project is important irrespective of its size or owner, and the team matches its customers’ enthusiasm and commitment every step of the way.

The McKnight team also contributes to individual causes and workforce development like the Associated General Contractors of America’s (AGC) workforce development programs. As a committed board member of the AGC, Kinsey is enthusiastic about the board’s extensive work in promoting the industry on several levels, including providing job training for the next generation.

Kinsey’s favorite event of the year is the Skills Challenge, a competition that welcomes school-going trade students from surrounding counties to test their capabilities against one another to win a large selection of prizes, some of which include scholarships. “It is a fantastic event—a real celebration of the industry and its future,” she says.

Kinsey is also on the board of Augusta Technical College Foundation, which does much to promote the industry amongst young people. “They have a focus across multiple industries. It is such a pleasure to be a part of this group. Their mission is to educate and send individuals to work in the workforce immediately, and I think that is a fantastic and much-needed mission,” she adds.

A backlog of diverse projects has been the focus of every generation since McKnight’s inception. When interest rates started aiming toward 16 percent, the Carter administration developed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing projects, which presented an opportunity. When this was followed by President Reagan’s military finance focus, McKnight again adapted its business model to match the most prominent current market need, and the approach proved to be indispensable.

This ability to adapt has served the company well, and never more so than in the fourth generation. In the ten years since Will McKnight’s daughters joined his team, they have witnessed unprecedented shifts in the industry at every level. Thankfully they were raised in McKnight Construction, and worked summers at the company long before they officially joined its workforce. They were able to bring the stability of McKnight’s history with innovations to adapt for the future.

“We are building on our past, both in the quality of work as well as our relationships. We are expanding on both of those foundations to grow as a company,” says Downs.

To ensure that it stays ahead of market demands in light of labor shortages, the company’s leadership is proactive, offering high-standard, in-house training courses with a strong focus on safety. It is well-staffed and ready to welcome new clients and new work. With long-serving and experienced leaders alongside younger leaders with a vision for the future, the company can grow sustainably, at a healthy pace.

“We allow [our employees] to do any training they want. We pay for it so long as they complete it. We do not cap it based on title,” says Downs. Training doesn’t stop with industry topics, but also includes public speaking and other meaningful subjects to improve soft skills and personal growth.

As a result, people love working here, as reflected in McKnight’s impressive retention rate. Another happy result is that its staff members recommend the company to others as a great employer, making the search for quality talent much easier. McKnight’s high-standard in-house training guarantees quality staff to promote from within the company. In addition to top-class training, this is also a team that enjoys spending time together away from work at sponsored staff events.

The sheer enthusiasm with which this company operates is contagious and, as the McKnight sisters agree, is what sets the company apart. With the team’s continued attention to detail and customer care before, during, and after each project, it is their commitment to project owners that will carry the firm through whatever the future holds.

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