Symphony of Construction
Nothing versatile JS Biondi Inc. hasn’t built or isn’t willing to build
Jennifer Neibel calls her husband, Rob Neibel, the Founder and President of Sterling Heights, Michigan-based JS Biondi Inc., a “maestro.”
“To see a piece of land that was vacant farmland, and he builds a building there. It really is like conducting an orchestra, and that goes from the paperwork to the client, to how everyone is working together,” she says. “There could be up to 16 trades on-site at a time, all working simultaneously to meet a goal. And that’s what Rob executes. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Rob Neibel, 55, founded JS Biondi, a commercial construction and general contracting company, in 2011, following the economic downturn. The company he was working for closed its doors in 2009, and Rob bounced around for a year but wasn’t content—nobody was hiring. “So my very intuitive wife—I thought she was crazy at time—talked me into starting our own company,” he says.
“I knew he would never be happy working for somebody else,” says Jennifer, who serves as the firm’s Vice President. “We could be broke either doing it on our own or working for someone else, so why not start a business?” she says.
“We started out on our kitchen table, and our garage was our warehouse and shop,” Rob notes.
The company’s name is an amalgamation of their sons’ initials—J for Jack and S for Stephan—and Biondi, which is Jennifer’s maiden name. The Neibels hope to pass the company down to their sons, but that is years off. Jack is 15, and Stephan is 14. However, the boys “have already begun to work with me doing little jobs. They can already paint and do tile and some carpentry work,” Rob says.
JS Biondi has grown beyond the kitchen table and currently has annual revenue of around $7 million, according to Rob.
A general contracting and construction management company, JS Biondi offers a full range of design-build, general contracting and construction management services. The company works primarily in Michigan, but has done work in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois.
JS Biondi has built facilities for public, private and military customers and has experience in commercial, industrial, automotive, cannabis, faith-based and government projects “I always say that there is almost nothing that I haven’t built and there is nothing that I can’t build,” Rob says.
Providing Construction Expertise
“Lately we have been doing a lot of cannabis projects, whether they are cultivation centers, dispensaries or processing labs,” Rob says. The industry launched in 2008 with passage of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative and exploded a decade later when Michigan became the 10th state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana. The industry brought in nearly $3.2 billion in 2020, according to a study by the East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group.
“We are not users, so I was surprised at how technical and scientific this industry truly is,” Rob says. “We are dealing with microbiologists and genetic engineers—people of that nature. It is not your typical Cheech and Chong type of customer. These are highly educated, highly informed clients.”
One of their initial cannabis clients and still their largest is Rair. JS Biondi has built indoor growing facilities, processing plants, labs and retail dispensaries for Rair, a large Jackson, Michigan, grower, processor and distributor. They have done projects for small growers with as few as 72 plants to growers with up to 15,000 plants. “It’s definitely a unique playground to be in,” Jennifer says.
The grow facilities that JS Biondi deals with are all indoor operations. “Everyone we are dealing with either purchases an existing building or we work with them to build a ground-up facility,” Jennifer says.
Cannabis is certainly a unique industry. “If I put 100 cultivators in front of you, I will show you 100 different ways to cultivate,” Jennifer notes. Growers have different applications and different mediums in which they grow, from planting in soil to hydroponics, aquaponics and even aeroponics. “But that medium doesn’t matter to us, because we can take them to where they need to go,” Rob says.
JS Biondi sees the cannabis projects leading to work in what they believe is the next agricultural craze: indoor farming. Canada already has a few vertical grows—where plants are grown stacked on shelves or other structures in what are basically huge greenhouses, and there are some in the Eastern United States, Jennifer says, but it is just starting to break into the rest of the country. “We’re already starting to get into the circles of people who are going to be doing these indoor farms,” she says. The next generation of farmers will not be going outside and getting a suntan, she notes, but are going to be working in a controlled environment. “And there are so many new technologies that are coming about to be able to grow your agriculture inside. When they say vertical grow, these are tables that are stacked. You could have a 20-foot ceiling. You could have three-story greenhouses,” Jennifer says.
Saving Clients Thousands
The company also does a lot of traditional construction projects. Rob is particularly proud of a used-car facility they tackled for Gene Butman Ford in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The small project involved the adaptive reuse of a house.
The city of Ypsilanti was going to require a curb cut, deceleration and acceleration lanes, and new landscaping. The cost was going to be about $250,000 to $300,000 in addition to the actual building, Rob says. “This is where we are a little different from some other general contractors. I went back through the city’s code and found that if I left two walls, the project would be considered a renovation, not a new building. That allowed us to skip the curb cuts, the deceleration and acceleration lanes and the landscaping and save the owner $250,000 to $300,000,” Rob says.
While JS Biondi focuses on commercial and industrial projects, Rob is also a licensed residential contractor. But, he prefers the commercial work. “That’s why we only have a commercial/industrial division. We can cater to our clients better,” Jennifer adds.
However, they did take on an unusual residential project a few years ago. In the Neibels’ neighborhood in Chesterfield, Michigan, a builder finished the shell of a house and then disappeared with the homeowner’s money, Rob says. The homeowner, who worked for a company that Rob had done renovation work for, had to rent an apartment, was unable to close on escrow, had to get more funding and couldn’t get the title on the house, Rob says. JS Biondi took over the project and completed the house.
“I have never seen more grateful, happy people. It is a beautiful home now,” Jennifer says. “And we brought it in under their budget. We ended up giving them a credit back, so they could have money for other things,” Rob adds. “The entire neighborhood is happy that we got that house done. It was the last house in the subdivision, too.”
JS Biondi also supports a number of charities. One of those is MCREST, which works with the homeless in Macomb County, Michigan. “Before I got into this line of work, I was a hairstylist for 30 years, and I volunteered with MCREST and the churches to help the homeless for every bit of those 30 years,” Jennifer says. “I still do it, but keep it very low-key. We do a lot of things for our community but we keep a very low profile.”
One organization that she has a particular soft spot for is the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund of Detroit, whose mission is to ensure that no child goes without a Christmas gift. “Let me put it this way, if it weren’t for them, me and my brother wouldn’t have had Christmas for a few years,” she says.
The husband and wife team that leads JS Biondi also takes pride in caring for its employees. “Just make life easy,” Jennifer says. The little things matter. When she goes out to the job sites she “makes it a point to bring the guys lunch or doughnuts and coffee. I treat them the way that I want to be treated, and Rob carries that over as well. I’ve got to keep these guys happy, because happy workers help morale. And I don’t have to worry about my people looking for a job.”
But Jennifer emphasizes that “if there was no Rob, there would be no JS Biondi. “He takes things to the next level,” she says. “He mentored with the best in the business. He has taken away the things that he wasn’t in favor of, and he’s adapted his own way to make things work. That is what makes JS Biondi what we are—a unique and successful firm.”