Making Its Mark Across History
James J. Welch & Co., Inc. serves up seven generations of quality construction
If one mark of success is said to be longevity, James J. Welch & Co., Inc. has accomplished more than most. For over 165 years, customers have turned to the firm for construction services throughout Essex County, Massachusetts, and across all of New England.
James Welch began offering his services in Salem as a stonemason in 1852, helping to build the coastal city brick by brick. As the company evolved, James J. Welch & Co. grew in its service offerings. Today, the company offers general contracting, construction management, design-build and site evaluation services for new construction and renovation projects throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as well as areas of Maine and Connecticut. The family-owned company serves commercial clients in a variety of markets and sectors and takes on high-end residential and multi-unit housing projects.
“We are now in our seventh generation of ownership,” says President Justin Welch. Justin leads the company along with his father, Mike, who serves as Treasurer. The firm takes on both small and large projects—from $50,000 to upward of $5 million. “About 70% of our work is renovations in occupied buildings and facilities,” Justin says.
The company manages projects for private-sector clients that include restaurants, retailers, health care and senior living facilities, and education institutions, managing about 50 projects a year.
Reflecting Company Values
Ensuring the success of any project starts with a careful selection of team members, according to Justin. “We give great thought in selecting our project team,” he says. “Does the superintendent or project manager have the type of experience we need for this project, and how do we feel this person will get along with this particular client, the architect and the construction team? Are team members located in close proximity to the project site? How well will they do on this job? We want to put people in the position to succeed.”
Team members range from career superintendents to those just learning the industry. “While experience levels may vary, every one of our employees has very specific traits in common—they are all intelligent, well spoken, treat others fairly, understand what they’re doing and are always willing to learn,” he says.
These traits are a reflection of Justin’s own values. “Our team members are an extension of me out there in the field. We put great care into who we hire and how we train them.”
Employees take pride in the quality of their work and take the budget and schedule to heart. “We make sure we are hitting those project milestones and that we are staying within budget,” Justin says.
Both Justin and Mike are available to clients and stay up to date on the progress of each project. “I have weekly meetings with our project managers where we go over what’s going well and areas that might need a little more attention,” Justin says. Superintendents have the authority to make decisions on day-to-day operations out in the field and are key to promoting the company’s safety culture. “We have weekly safety meetings with everyone on the job site, including all of our subcontractors. We make sure everyone’s wearing hard hats, ear and eye protection,” he says.
Cooking up Greatness
One of Justin and Mike’s favorite projects is one that spans generations. “The Beverly School for the Deaf was founded in the late 1800s in Beverly, Massachusetts. For years, the campus was made up of houses,” Mike says. In the 1960s, the private school had gathered enough funds for its first large development, a 16,000-square-foot modern building. The school turned to James J. Welch & Co. to make that dream into a reality. Fifty years later, the school turned to the company once again. “We created a second building on the same campus,” Justin says. The 8,000-square-foot building houses classrooms, employee offices, a staff kitchenette and a life-skills center with a kitchen used for teaching students how to cook. Additionally, the new facility houses two garages located in the basement, as well as an elevator. Another project also touches on the culinary world. James J. Welch & Co. worked with Cloud Kitchens to convert a warehouse into thirty-six 200-square-foot commercial kitchens in Providence, Rhode Island. “Major restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill will lease out these kitchens to provide meals for food delivery services like Uber Eats,” Justin explains.
James J. Welch & Co. managed construction of three restaurants for Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub. Two of the restaurants were new construction projects. “Our most recent one in Amesbury, Massachusetts, was a renovation project. We gutted an existing building to create a new 6,000-square-foot restaurant in just four weeks,” Justin says.
For Bournewood Health Systems, James J. Welch & Co. renovated the basement and first floor to create a new wing for the privately owned psychiatric facility located in Brookline, Massachusetts. “We managed this four-month project while the second floor remained occupied,” Justin says. The project team carefully orchestrated and executed the project schedule, ensuring that utilities including water and the sprinkler system remained operational during the fast-paced, logistically challenging project and making sure patients, visitors and doctors could easily enter and exit the building.
Shaped by Each Generation
While James J. Welch & Co. started as a stone masonry company, the firm changed focus through the years as subsequent generations took the reins. “We did paving and had a quarry at one point in time, up until the 1920s and 1930s,” Mike says. “When my grandfather—the fourth generation—took over in the 1930s, we were doing a lot of work in Salem for many good-sized local companies like Parker Brothers and SYLVANIA, as well as the gas and electric company and area banks.”
As Mike’s father assumed leadership, the company began expanding its service area. “In the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, we were doing a lot of public work for hospitals, fire stations and churches,” he says. When Mike took over in the 1970s, he transitioned the company from public-sector to private-sector projects. “With private work, we have a greater hand in choosing our subcontractors, giving us better quality control and better control over our project schedule.” The company managed projects all over New England. “At that point, we transitioned to doing a lot of condominiums and multifamily housing projects,” he says.
Justin took over in 2017, and the company continues to do what it does best. “Today, we perform multiple projects for a smaller client base,” Justin says. “Our focus is to develop strong relationships with our clients so we become the contractor of choice for their present projects and all of their follow-on work.”
While Mike admits that he was expected to assume the role of successor in the well-established business, Justin never felt those pressures. “I never dreamed of taking over the family business,” he says. “I grew up working on job sites during the summers. I became familiar with the business and always really liked who I worked with.” What ultimately drew Justin to join the company after college was seeing the fruits of his labor. “I liked doing something where I could see the results of my work at the end of the day. I’ve really grown to love this industry.”
Both Mike and Justin appreciate that the company has been shaped by each generation. “Each person has changed the company and contributed to its growth,” Mike says.
Still in his 30s, Justin has many years ahead before he has to think of the eighth generation James J. Welch & Co. Justin and his wife, Caroline, just gave birth to their first child. “There are no expectations that our child will take over the company,” he says. Until then, the company will continue making its mark across New England. “We choose the right people for the job and continue to give our clients a quality product and a great construction experience.”