Building a Legacy
For More Than a Century, Nielsen Builders Has Made Community Its Priority
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the school is the heart of a community. And for more than 100 years, Nielsen Builders, Inc. has been integral in establishing, maintaining and renovating the very structures that touch so many of its neighbors’ lives throughout Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
The Harrisonburg-based company is a full-service commercial construction firm offering project delivery systems from program management, construction management and general contracting to design-build and consulting services. It embraces innovative construction techniques and product development and is led by a leadership team consisting of caring corporate citizens who enhance both the community and the environment in which the company conducts business.
Nielsen’s project roster includes hospitals and health care facilities, senior living centers and church facilities, but “schools are our bread and butter,” says Zach Lokey, the company’s Business Development Representative.
Specializing in Schools
Lokey spent much of his first year at Nielsen learning the company’s history, studying the impact it has had across the state and researching projects from the past. Unsurprisingly, he says, education projects kept popping up.
“Schools are never going away, and they’re always growing. The demand for additions, renovations or even new schools is constant and leads to endless education-related projects,” he notes.
Establishing new campuses and retrofitting or adding onto existing schools and universities helps Nielsen’s employees stay connected to and involved with their neighbors.
“We know this close-knit community, and this community knows us,” Lokey says.
High-profile, higher education facilities credited to Nielsen include projects at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the Virginia Military Institute, the state-supported military college in Lexington that is among the oldest such institutions in the country. Nielsen’s resume does not stop there, though. It has performed work at numerous universities around the valley, including Bridgewater College and Blue Ridge Community College.
Among the most recent primary school projects is the Elon W. Rhodes Early Learning Center for Harrisonburg City Public Schools. The $6.2 million contract, which was completed in time for the 2017-18 school year, was for a 16,000-square-foot addition for pre-K students, featuring eight classrooms, a special education center, conference rooms and an administration area, as well as an enclosed pedestrian bridge over a fire access road that connects the existing school to the new facility.
Growing Business for More Than a Century
Just as Henry Ford began rolling out the first affordable automobile, the Model T, Joseph Nielsen and his company also began taking off. The Danish immigrant, who began his career as an interior decorator and designer, arrived in Virginia and launched his business in 1908, inviting his brothers Nils, an interior designer, and Otto, who helped manage the company, to join him along the way. Joseph led the company through a move from Round Hill to Harrisonburg—where it was hired to complete the finishes on First National Bank, which still stands today as Bank of America. Nielsen’s brothers had left the company by the time he retired in 1961. The founder served as chairman of the board until his death a year later at the age of 76.
But Joseph’s work ethic, reputation and legacy had long been established by then, and the leaders who followed have been building upon it ever since.
“Our reputation for excellence is based upon our commitment to quality assurance, responsible craftsmanship, leadership, innovation, safety awareness and employee satisfaction,” the company says in its mission statement. “We are dedicated to continually setting higher standards for ourselves by guaranteeing a total quality product for each and every one of our clients.”
Lokey says that Nielsen’s reputation has helped the firm win new work and clients–and keep existing customers.
“We have over 40 years more experience than all of our local competitors,” he says. “We’re still here 110 years later, and our resume has continued to grow—that means we’re doing something right. Longevity is developed through continued success, and that is something that Nielsen can proudly market.”
Building on that experience has given Nielsen—which also operates Legacy Cabinets & Millwork and TiltCon (a company offering concrete construction solutions)—an advantage when competing for contracts and jobs.
“When someone asks us, ‘Can you do it?’ we can say, ‘Not only can we do it, we’ve done it before—and maybe even more than once,’” Lokey says. “Without that solid foundation and wide array of experience, we probably would not be as prominent as we are today. To be going strong more than a century later is powerful.”
Employees take pride in Nielsen’s long-standing history and are truly invested in seeing the firm grow and succeed.
About the time it was celebrating its centennial, Nielsen became an employee-owned operation.
“For us employees, that means it’s more than just being an employee,” Lokey says about Nielsen’s ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) status. “It gives us a greater sense of pride and a higher commitment to quality and efficiency.”
Nielsen, which has a workforce of about 100 full-time employees, is driven by the company’s underlying goal—to be a premier construction leader always striving for excellence. It takes a collaborative, team-oriented approach to accomplish this ambition.
“All of our people are special,” Lokey says. “Everyone has a role that contributes to our success and plays a part in who we are.”
And because they are owners, too, “there is even more incentive for them do to their best and work their hardest,” Lokey adds.
Nielsen has firmly established itself as a vital partner to communities throughout the commonwealth of Virginia with its construction services. The management team has also made it a mission for Nielsen to do its part through service and outreach.
Being involved through volunteer efforts, donations and service is a big part of what Nielsen is, Lokey says, citing experience with the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Girl Scouts and more.
“We try to make sure we help in as many ways as possible and find avenues to help,” Lokey says.
Sometimes that’s building a roof or cleaning up brush; other times it’s contributing through a Day of Caring or serving in a leadership role with a local nonprofit organization. But the underlying message is always “giving back to our neighbors and staying rooted in our community,” Lokey concludes.