Developing Community…Creating Opportunity
Veteran-owned Marwood General Construction embodies service in every endeavor
In 2013, when Rueben Gardner returned home to Bremerton, Washington, after 12 years of active-duty Army service, his transition from deployment to employment was rockier than anticipated. Despite his prior construction experience, plus engineering skills developed during four combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, a decent-paying job that utilized his skills proved elusive.
Although discharged as a service-disabled veteran, Rueben was industrious and battle-hardened. His brother Leland, six years older, had earned a master’s degree in business management following 10 years of Navy service as a nuclear officer. He was ready for the challenge of a business startup.
So, the brothers decided to take charge of their families’ destinies and embarked on building their own construction company. Rueben and Leland had grown up doing construction with their grandfather, so they had plenty of skills to draw upon.
Their grandfather, Marwood “Red” Bingham, spent his whole life in marine construction—much of it working for a large company, General Construction Company in Washington. He had a diving scow and was a hard-hat diver. Red’s work included marinas, two floating bridges—one that carries Interstate 90 across Lake Washington and another carrying State Route 104 over Hood Canal—and he laid the first underwater fiber-optic cable in the United States.
The brothers named their new company Marwood General Construction, honoring his legacy. Since its founding seven years ago, it has become even more of a family business: Their mother, Laura Gardner, joined the company six years ago after her hospital IT job was outsourced. Laura serves as Vice President, managing the back-office operations. Rueben’s wife, Katherine, serves as the company’s Industrial Safety Officer.
“We needed to make money, so initially we started doing concrete work,” says Rueben, the company’s CEO. “Then, we purchased a dump truck, started purchasing excavators, and kept growing from there.” Seeing more opportunity, the brothers soon shifted to doing more civil site development work—taking on jobs like installing water and sewer mains and stormwater management systems.
Today, the certified veteran- and minority-owned company of 18 operates as a general contractor. It provides preconstruction services, project management, tenant improvements, site development services, and erosion and sediment control management. The team also provides underground utility services for the installation of sewer, water, electrical, stormwater management and fire lines, plus concrete foundations and flat work.
Building a Solid Foundation
The company’s emphasis is infrastructure development and new construction, along with some redevelopment. It undertakes new construction projects in the private sector, working with contractors that construct buildings for gas stations, Starbucks and other businesses. The company’s portfolio of retail projects includes a Sherwin-Williams paint store, an ARCO gas station and companion convenience store, and a U-Haul storage center. Marwood General Construction also served as a civil construction subcontractor to multiple developers on short plats for bundled housing developments. This includes an 8-acre apartment complex in the Bay Vista neighborhood, part of a redevelopment project in the Gardners’ hometown of Bremerton.
“Working with different general contractors, we take projects from raw land and develop them through all the site work that needs to be done,” Rueben explains. “While the contractor focuses on the building, we work on the rest of the site—installing the utilities, cutting in new roads and preparing for asphalt paving and concrete.”
Filling a Pressing Need
One important niche is the single- family housing market. There is high demand for affordable housing, so the Marwood General Construction team has extended its focus to serve these needs.
“We’re branching out and creating our own housing developments—building affordable houses with responsibility for the complete process through our own company,” Rueben says.
Performing all the functions themselves—from acquisition of raw land to development to purchase by the eventual homeowner—eliminates three layers of commission, extra overhead and other expenses, Rueben says. That way, the company can keep prices within reach for more buyers.
Marwood General Construction is currently working on single-family homes of 1,300 to 1,800 square feet, but its affordable housing goal centers on a duplex model with 1,200 to 1,600 square feet per side. These duplexes are designed to be energy- efficient for lower operating costs over the long term.
Rueben and Leland particularly want to be of help to those in the military service. With three Naval bases, plus the country’s largest Army-led joint base in the vicinity, the brothers want to enable those who are stationed nearby to have nice homes for their families. “Many service members and veterans want to move their families up here, but they can’t afford a house that’s close to their military base or work site. There’s just not enough housing for a lot of people stationed on the bases,” Rueben explains.
Homing in on Helping Disabled Veterans
Rueben and Leland also have been consulting with various veterans’ organizations and advisers to define the needs and help develop the most appropriate resources for housing that is specifically for wounded warriors and for those who are transitioning from the military. “With so many military facilities in the area, there are a lot of younger enlisted people and veterans in their 30s with young families. Many are in the process of leaving the military, but they don’t have a place to live,” Rueben explains. “We envision building an apartment complex that essentially serves as a transition place where they can live, get counseling and other supportive services, have a small family and move on from there.”
So far, Marwood General Construction has acquired a piece of property in the city of Bremerton right next to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, where many of these veterans go to find jobs. It is also strategically located adjacent to a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post.
Depending on parking and logistics, the community will offer 33 to 43 subsidized apartment units. By co-locating with the VFW post, these vets will have ready access to counselors and other needed services.
Currently, the Gardners are working with architects and identifying funding sources to complete their passion project. If engineering is finalized by the end of this year and the permitting process proceeds quickly, this project should come to fruition between 2021 and 2022.
Operational Efficiency Ensures Value
Marwood General Construction maintains a consistent flow of work for its employees year-round and pays them a fair wage, Rueben says. This is in sharp contrast with much of the construction industry in Washington, where the weather isn’t exactly conducive to year-round construction work.
By keeping people working continually, the company skips the cycles of laying off and rehiring workers—then paying them an exorbitant amount for seasonal work.
“When people know they’re only going to be working seasonally, you have to pay higher wages to get them back, which drives up the cost of everything,” Rueben asserts. “When you can offer a consistent paycheck, people are willing to work for a reasonable rate, rather than demanding 30%, 40% or 50% above market rate just to complete a job.”
Many of the employees at Marwood General Construction are people with whom Rueben personally grew up or with whom he served. Since the beginning, the firm has opened its doors to individuals who are eager to learn, and provides ample opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Continual Development Pays Dividends
Another way the company fosters loyalty, advances its employees’ skills and stays nimble is through cross-training. Heavy-equipment operators learn to do concrete work, for example, enabling them to assist on a pour, if needed, by doing setup.
“It makes them better at what they do by seeing what the other people have to do,” Rueben says. “You develop well-rounded employees through cross-training, because they become a little more conscious of things that others might not. Multiskilled workers also make you more efficient, so if you have to fill a gap, you don’t have to start fresh.”
Marwood General Construction currently holds and/or has in process multiple certifications and set-aside designations. It is a federally certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, a participant in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program, and is certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise and a Minority Business Enterprise through the Washington State Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises. Additionally, the firm maintains an industrial safety officer and multiple Certified Erosion and Sediment Control Leads, and is superintendent-qualified with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. Marwood General Construction truck drivers and heavy-equipment operators hold Commercial Driver License (CDL) endorsements.
Beyond the company’s credentials and certifications, Rueben says that what really matters is value. “Marwood General Construction consistently strives to deliver the best product and best price, backed by solid expertise, capabilities, quality and performance,” he states.