Nod to Past with Eyes on Future
Hill Construction Co. LLC builds on foundation of integrity, humility and generosity
When Bob Morris was ready to break ground on his Ziebart of the Midlands automotive services shop near Columbia, South Carolina, he knew exactly which general contractor he wanted for the job: Hill Construction Co. LLC, a commercial construction services firm led by Founder and President Ray Hill.
“Ray exceeded my expectations—and I had high expectations,” Morris says. “I can’t think of anyone who has more moral character, and he has so much passion for what he does, like I do for the automotive business, and it really shows.”
He adds, “He’s always ‘all in’ and happy to do anything. It’s kind of a cliché, but he makes you feel like you’re his only customer.”
Hill Construction, based in Columbia, has been building across South Carolina since 2010, its custom brick-and-mortars now as commonplace as a hardy yield of soybeans.
What has growth looked like? When it first opened, the company had two employees. Today there are nine, including the original superintendent and now the superintendent’s son. Hill says that his company’s annual gross billings started at about $500,000 in 2010 and grew to $8.5 million in 2020.
Teamwork is an important concept at the company and a point of pride for Hill, a former outside linebacker at the University of South Carolina who played at South Carolina under Joe Morrison and Sparky Woods from 1987 to 1991.
“I saw the value of a team environment and everyone working together for a common goal,” he says. “I’ve kept that mindset as best I can for business and creating a team. There are so many pieces and parts that go into a building; it’s important to get everyone on the same page.” Today, he knows more than a little about the benefits of a team in idea generation and brainstorming, creativity, morale, motivation, risk-taking and more. Through a team approach, he says, his business is more successful in delivering project quality and excellence.
“The personal relationships we build with our clients and our hands-on approach make us unique,” Hill says. “We offer a design-build approach for project delivery. This takes the owner from an initial concept drawn out on a napkin to a beautiful new building working with one entity, one contract and one unified flow of work through completion. We know a team approach is how to get the best product we can.”
The company is always looking for subcontractor partners. Hill says that his firm, which handles project planning and oversight, ultimately contracts 90-95 percent of work to subcontractors. Hill Construction needs them now more than ever, Hill says, because of growth and a recent trend in declining numbers of subcontractors.
Rooted in Servant Leadership
The company’s mission statement includes a declaration of a “foundation built on Godly principles.” Hill believes that being a good carpenter, from constructing an office building to building people up, requires a focus on one’s soul.
“My personal principles are integrity, humility and generosity,” Hill says.
“I use those to guide the direction of the company. Those are very important and have a lot to do with the success of the company and giving people the confidence in us doing their projects.
“My faith is important to me. The basis was God would always bless the company so that we could bless others,” he says.
Hill and his wife, Robin, have two children: Zack, 24, who is working on a master’s degree in theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and Haley, 22, a senior at Vanderbilt University. Hill serves on the board of the Oliver Gospel Mission, a nonprofit homeless shelter in Columbia, and works to raise money for Columbia International University.
“His faith is very important to him and his entire family,” says Morris, who knew a little about Hill before they met because his sister and Hill went to high school together. “They have a very solid family foundation. It shows in his day-to-day activities. He definitely treats people the way he wants to be treated—I guarantee you that.”
Hill recalls the leap of faith to start his own company. He was in his early 40s and had been working for general contractors for about 14 years. He was positioning himself to pave his own way, staying current on industry issues such as training and safety and the financial and human resources aspects of business.
“I always had an interest and anticipation of starting my own company,” Hill says. “I felt like I had learned what I needed to learn and was at an age, 41, that if I didn’t do it then, I probably never would.”
He jumped in while the economy was still suffering from the Great Recession. “In 2010, construction probably wasn’t much better” than in 2008 and 2009, Hill says. “I still decided to do it. A lot of prayer and preparation went into it.” Hill Construction launched in October 2010.
Hill had confidence in securing the work necessary to survive that first year because of the relationships he had built over the previous 14 years with professionals in the construction industry.
“Starting out, I talked to some folks I knew who were going to be building some stuff, and that helped get us out of the gate,” Hill says. “It was thin, lean, but through relationships with architects and others, that’s how we got our first jobs.”
Drip, Drip, Drip
Hill’s longest-standing client is Sean McCrossin, who had a coffee shop in Charleston, the oldest and largest city in South Carolina. McCrossin had been considering a store in Columbia. His dream and Hill’s dream converged.
Hill Construction’s first job was McCrossin’s new coffee shop, Drip. Hill has since also overseen the construction of McCrossin’s second shop in Columbia, Drip on Main, and his gelato shop, Scoopy Doo.
“He was extremely easy and very flexible as my budget didn’t allow for his full appraisal,” McCrossin says. “He worked around our schedule and accommodated when needed. But the biggest takeaways are that he did the work on time and within the budget. And, most importantly, to this day—10 years later—he still fixes things that he originally worked on with the same integrity that he proved to have when he first stepped into that small dream I had of opening a coffee shop in Columbia.”
Hill says his company has a number of clients for which it has done multiple projects.
Ziebart’s Morris concurs with McCrossin’s perceptions. “I would not hesitate to use Hill again for additional stores," says Morris, whose Ziebart of the Midlands automotive services shop is doing quite well. Morris says his goal is to expand to two more stores in the next five years.
Hill also recently started working on a 14,000-square-foot karate studio and academy in Columbia. It’s one of a number of projects that began in 2020, a year in which his business didn’t slow, despite the challenges that COVID-19 posed to the economy.
“We were busier than we’ve ever been,” Hill says.
Other notable projects include a collaboration with Talmage Architects on a design-build of Sonny’s SportsPlex, a 17,000-square-foot indoor courts facility and open gym in Columbia, and The Lakeview Centre, an office building with a spectacular view of Lake Murray.
Old Is New Again
Part of the challenge of this era of gentrification and emerging ethos of urbanism is transforming historical architecture for modern uses. Preserving buildings—and their historical and architectural integrity—is typically a public-private venture, often rooted in the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program, which was designed to encourage private sector developers to invest in the rehabilitation and reuse of historic buildings.
Since 1976, the program has leveraged more than $102 billion to preserve almost 46,000 historic properties, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.
The work of renovating these kinds of properties has become a specialty of Hill Construction and a source of pride for Hill, a self-described history buff.
“We revel in repurposing historic buildings as it honors construction workers of the past and gives new life to an old building,” Hill says.
He beams when talking about the redo of the Fannie McCants Elementary School, built in 1931 and recently repurposed as the Townhomes of McCants in the historic, revitalized Earlewood neighborhood of Columbia. That job was in the neighborhood of $2 million, Hill says.
“It was an elementary school that had been sitting empty for about 10 years,” Hill says. “It was still a sound, strongly built structure. We had the opportunity to go in and through those tax credits make it financially worthwhile.
We subdivided it into 11 townhomes.”
The developers, Zack and Jeff Wheeler, are friends of his, Hill says, which made the project even more enjoyable.