Neeser Construction featured in Alaska Under Construction's September 2000 issue

News Source: Alaska Under Construction
Publish Date: September 14, 2000

An interview with Jerry Neeser of Neeser Construction

Jerry Neeser’s competitors have courted his workers on occasion. But his employees aren’t about to defect. Neeser Construction Inc., which employs between 50 and 200 workers, has been around too long while so many others have gone bust over the years. “No one can promise them the same longevity,” Neeser says of his profit-sharing company.

What’s more, the 25 year old Anchorage company has won some of the most visible — and lucrative — projects around, including the new military mall at Elmendorf Air Force Base, the Anchorage jail, Eagle River Wal-Mart and an upcoming commercial development at Muldoon and DeBarr road. Success, however, is no surprise, considering that Neeser has been in construction since childhood.

BNA contributing writer Rachel D’Oro recently interviewed Neeser about his life’s work and the special challenges of building in Alaska.

BNA: Let’s start with a personal history of you.

Neeser: I’m one of 14 children. My dad was a developer, a general contractor and an artist. He built schools and churches and commercial buildings. And he moved us from town to town in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, started us working as boys; I was 9 years old. We worked seven days a week, 16, 18 hours a day.

BNA: How did you wind up in Alaska?

Neeser: I finished high school in ’67 and I started my own business in Washington just prior to that. So when I got out of the Marines, I decided to get my business going again and went to Los Angeles, where an older brother was a structural engineer and had his own engineering firm. We built parking structures and high rises, and in just three years we grew from nothing to doing tens of millions of dollars of work, to 400 employees. We were working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, just like we did when we were young. And we looked at each other and said, “Do we really want to be doing this?” We decided to shut it down and then everybody went back to doing their own thing. I went to Spokane to see if I could get things going up there. My brother Tom ended up in Anchorage on Vacation. He needed a little money so he started working. This was the fall of ’74, when they needed qualified people. He called me and he said, ‘I know how you like to work. You belong here.’ The next day, I flew up and started working on a custom home.

BNA: When did you start working yourself?

Neeser: The next spring, I decided to build a business from the ground up and began hiring key people. Those same core people are still here. In the early days, sometimes they got checks when I didn’t get checks.

BNA: So you’ve had some lean times.

Neeser: Oh, we have. This industry has boomed and bust in Alaska. I’m one of the few contractors that still has the same name as when I started. It’s a very harsh industry and if you don’t plan for the lean times you’re not going to make it. My father went broke probably three times while I was growing up. That helped me know which turns to take. The development is what usually took him down. So I’m a developer but I’m first a contractor. I only risk what I can afford to lose in the development part of the business. When the oil downturn hit in the mid-‘80s, so many contractors were spread too thin. You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that says, ‘Please God, just give me one more boom and I promise not to piss it away.’ But we’ve been out of the boom for awhile.

BNA: What’s the climate now? You’ve got a lot of the important projects around town.

Neeser: We’ve got most of the important projects in town right now. But we’ve been all over the state, including probably 20 Bush villages. Mostly now we’re in town.

BNA: Let’s talk about your latest venture, the controversial bid-box project in Muldoon that would replace the Alaskan Village Mobile Home Court.

Neeser: Obviously their first concern is they have to move. But what I told them is the owner could shut the park down and then go for a rezone. He has the legal right to give them 30- day notice and tell them all to move. It’s a private property. But he’s sensitive enough to want to allow people to stay there as long as they could because the zoning action will take at least a year …. I’m a reasonable developer. (The owner and I) are looking to assist them in moving when we don’t have to, financially (with a $2,500 allowance per unit).

BNA: What stage is the project in?

Neeser: It’s been approved by the zoning board and now it goes to the Assembly sometime in September. We’ve told everyone in the community that they can anticipate the movement in the spring. We’re not going to ask anybody to move in the middle of winter. A number of people are already moving, though.

BNA: What do you envision at the site?

Neeser: A Sam’s Club, which is using 14 acres of 68 acres, placed at the rear of the first half of the property. Out front will be restaurants, bank, video, and a Laundromat. We’re trying to get a 24-hour health care clinic out there, which there are none that side of town.

BNA: What other projects are you involved in?

Neeser: We’re doing the new state medical examiner’s laboratory out on Tudor and Boniface. It’s a beautiful facility. We’ll be done in November. It’s probably one of the most intricate projects that we’ve ever done.

BNA: I’ll bet your experience contributes to your ability to complete projects in Alaska’s harsh conditions.

Neeser: Sure. A lot of our abilities came from out early years in Bush construction. When you do a Bush school, everything you need has to be thought of beforehand. It has to go on the barge. There are no stores. And then you have the logistics problem of getting the product to the site. Some have been 5-day sailing down the Yukon River on small barges in the fall with the river freezing up. Some have been ice runways to land (cargo planes). We had to flood the end of the runway and create an extra thousand feet on time, pumping water out of the lake and froze the tundra flat. Most of the foundation systems on the Bush schools need to be done in the winter because you can only drill when the ground is frozen. In the summertime your equipment will fall through the tundra and into the muskeg and into the mud and muck.

BNA: What about building in Anchorage?

Neeser: You just keep going. Years ago, people stopped in Anchorage. But people saw the pipeline working in the dead of winter. And there also was the need not to stop. They’re as a lot of infrastructure here that needed to be built and if you only did it four months out of the year you weren’t going to get in done.

BNA: How would you sum up your Alaska career?

Neeser: Alaska has treated me incredibly well. It’s a harsh place to live but if you’re willing and eager to work it will give back to you. We’re still a pioneer state. You can come here and get farther faster than anywhere in the country. It’s still raw here. There are still things to be done.