Investing in People

Langston Construction
Written by Pauline Müller

Langston Construction Company treats its team as well as it treats its customers. And it’s not a secret—the company was recently announced as seventh on the list of South Carolina’s best places to work by Best Companies Group. This prestigious award proves how hard everyone in this company works to make it a fantastic place to be, and in the current economic climate, that is no small achievement.

Based in Piedmont, South Carolina, Langston Construction Company primarily serves the Southeastern United States. However, the firm did recently complete a very successful project in Arizona, 2,500 miles from home.

The company is known for its general contracting services in the industrial, environmental, and commercial markets. It is also known for its financial stability and for respecting its workers. It is not surprising, then, that Langston Construction has become favored among industry talent as an employer of choice. In turn, the company’s consistency and commitment attract the bright minds and muscle needed to outdo the competition in a tough industry.

The company is clear about its standards. Listening, respect, and absolute loyalty to its customers are the mainstays of a service culture that holds every customer dear and treats them and their projects like they are the most important person in the room. This ethos of genuine caring has led to an attitude of gratitude throughout the organization that has always stood the team in good stead and has built relationships that span decades.

Doing it right
Langston Construction has always taken safety seriously. In the early nineties, the company established a safety program that dictates how everything from project evaluation and bidding to execution is done. It performs regular task analysis, while continuously updating safety controls on its projects.

Quite fittingly, the company has received many accolades for its dedication to doing the right thing well across all levels of the organization. These awards include the SCLLR Gleaming Star Safety Achievement Award, the Associated General Contractors Safety Excellence Award in 2019, 2022, and 2023, and a South Carolina Excellence in Business Award, also in 2022.

Beyond taking home a Roaring Twenties Award for being among South Carolina’s twenty fastest-growing large companies, Langston Construction has also made the Inc. 5000 list for three consecutive years. The company also won the Pinnacle Award just over a year ago for the construction of a 1.25MG prestressed concrete ground storage water tank it built against Paris Mountain in Greenville, South Carolina. Dubbed the Greenville Water Hillandale Tank Project, the unit came complete with piping and vaults and an altitude valve building of cast-in-place concrete finished off with a brick veneer façade. The project included clearing the site of an existing building that had to be demolished, as well as blasting and removing 9,684 cubic yards of rock. It also included building a new paved road and a perimeter fence. Finally, the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) panel had to be freshened up with new sensors. In addition to achieving a key product on rough terrain, the 20,000 project hours resulted in no emergencies or lost time.

Planning for longevity
The company was founded in 1969 to specialize in building wastewater facilities. Part of the master plan—and one that has served the firm well—was its commitment to establishing an eight-to-ten-year succession plan.

“Our succession plan allowed us to stay financially healthy. We were able to manage our cash position and profitability over time to not interrupt our business operations,” says Evan Sowell, Owner and Principal.

Sowell first started working at Langston Construction as a project manager in 2006. Three years later, he was appointed partner, taking up his current position as Principal in 2018. Graduating from the Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina with a bachelor of science in business administration, Sowell is actively involved in industry organizations like the Carolinas AGC Legislative Committee and several others. He is also a Carolinas AGC Foundation trustee.

“It takes a long time to get your arms around everything there is to learn in a construction company. Those eight to ten years gave us the opportunity to gain the knowledge that we needed to move the company forward,” says Jim Roberts, Owner and Principal, appreciating how James Braswell handled this transition.

Among several other degrees and qualifications, he holds a master’s degree in construction science management from Clemson University. After working in several areas within the company, Roberts became a partner in 2009, becoming a co-principal in 2018. He also acts as a joint committee member/co-chair for the Associated General Contractors (AIASC/CAGC) and vice chair/chairperson for the CAGC utility division as well as other positions. Jim currently represents the Utility Division on the CAGC Board of Directors.

Sowell and Roberts point out that, although it costs more in cash flow to keep staff safe, not spending that money can cost the business significantly more in the long run. “We are very fortunate in that we have a client base that emphasizes safety, and that, in itself, allows us to keep it in our focus as well,” says Roberts.

While there will always be some who put profit and speed before safety, Roberts highlights that those are not the type of customers for which the company contracts. “Focusing on safety is one of the things that have contributed to our success over the years… because it matters to the people in the field; it matters to their families, and that helps us to attract top talent,” he adds.

A strong team
But Langston Construction does not only invest in safety. It also invests in its staff. Part of this is its internship program, which welcomes young people who will gain work experience during the summer. In Sowell and Roberts’ experience, having formerly common skills are not the norm today, as people grow up in vastly different ways from previous generations. They note that this makes such programs important in increasing the industry’s workforce.

For new employees, there is also a set of training sessions to bring them up to speed with the company’s processes and systems. This comprises spending one or two terms in different departments to give them hands-on knowledge of how everything works. The smartest part of this method is that people get to discover which division they most enjoy and where they would like to base their careers at the end of this initial work period.

There are also quarterly training sessions where craftsmen get to refresh their knowledge and skills in technical subjects like safety, the correct use of tools and equipment, working in small spaces, the finer points of site excavation, and interpreting blueprints. The events also include lectures on working with concrete and other topics. Employees benefit from a minimum of forty hours of safety training annually. By honing the quality of these training sessions, the company creates a platform from which it develops new staff members with solid work ethics, soft skills, and teachable spirits into industry experts who proudly uphold the Langston Construction name.

The team is well rewarded for its efforts with a 401(k) package, full health insurance entirely covered by the firm, a vacation day scale that grows with every year of service, and more. “We try very hard to listen to what our people really need and what is important to them, even when it means reading between the lines. We do everything we can to satisfy them,” says Roberts.

To secure repeat business, Langston has a sophisticated system of protocols developed to help guide staff in customer care. In this way, it inspires and reinforces the qualities required to build long-term customer relationships with some lasting twenty years or more. As a result of the importance placed on these relationships, the company has built the organizational stamina that was needed to steer through the global supply chain issues that followed COVID-19.

Sowell and Roberts are not short on praise for their team. “They are pretty determined. Their longevity in working for our clients and ability to understand their needs and meet their expectations are second to none. Even when they do not talk about it, we feel that sometimes it takes a good deal of determination to succeed through the things you cannot control,” says Sowell. It is with this same level of commitment that the company welcomes new customers and its very bright future.

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