VOL. 9 | NO. 24 | Saturday, June 11, 2016
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
Lehman-Roberts Investing in Memphis Roads, Community
By Don Wade
Lehman-Roberts Co. president Patrick Nelson is right when he says, “What we do is not terribly fancy or glamorous.”
Patrick Nelson, president of Lehman-Roberts Co., said it's important for his company to invest in community projects because improving the city where his company and employees work and play is important. (Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
But from the construction company’s birth in 1939, it has literally been paving the way for the people of the Mid-South. In 1971, Lehman-Roberts acquired Memphis Stone & Gravel, a locally owned and operated aggregate supplier to Memphis and North Mississippi whose own history dates back to 1910.
The two companies today employ more than 300 people and Nelson says that almost 25 percent of their workforce has been with them 20 or more years. Within the last few years, he said, Lehman employees have retired after working for the company more than 50 years.
“People come to our company and stay a long time,” said Nelson, and this year Lehman is celebrating its 77th year in business. “We have generations of families that have worked for us.
“It’s hard work, what we do is really hard work. So it attracts people that appreciate hard work,” he said. “Our folks take pride in what they get to build. I know my kids, when we’d be driving somewhere, they’d say, ‘Did you build this, Dad?’ If the road was smooth, I’d say yes. If it wasn’t, I’d say somebody else did it.”
He’s kidding about that last part, but if you’ve ever driven on Interstate 240, I-40 or Highway 78 in DeSoto County, you’ve doubtless driven on roadway that Lehman-Roberts paved.
Like every industry, time has changed the construction business.
“Government regulations are three times what they were 25 years ago,” Nelson said.
Some of the regulations are for the good and have made projects safer. But there’s also a certain amount of “red tape,” and among today’s main challenges is getting gravel-mining operations entitled.
“When it takes a decade to get permitted, that causes construction costs to go up,” said Nelson.
But business is going well; the company recently opened a new plant in Southaven. And the company is committed to being environmentally conscious through RAP: asphalt pavement recycling through reclaimed asphalt pavement.
“Every ton of asphalt we take off the street to put down new, it gets recycled,” Nelson said.
Lehman-Roberts also has continued its long-held tradition of investing in the surrounding community. In 2008, Lehman-Roberts and Memphis Stone & Gravel provided the funding for a faith-based private foundation, MercyforMemphis, www.mercyformemphis.org. The foundation’s core belief: Everything is a gift from a God.
But they have not stopped there. Recently, they joined with Clean Memphis to help the Soulsville community.
“I’ll be honest, the first year we were gonna do it, I heard all kinds of healthy complaining,” Nelson said. “But as soon as we did it, I heard, `That was the greatest thing.’ We had a big turnout (in the second year).”
Janet Boscarino, who is executive director at Clean Memphis, said: “I use Lehman as a great example of how to be a corporate stakeholder.”
A construction company, of course, is ideally suited to get into a community and help with the hard work that needs to be done.
Boscarino said they figured Lehman’s labor and equipment for the project on the last Martin Luther King Jr. Day was worth in excess of $75,000.
“Doing everything from cutting back overgrowth to removing tree stumps,” she said.
She said corporations such as Lehman-Roberts discover that partnering with Clean Memphis is good for their own team-building, while allowing them to get up-close and personal with a part of the community they previously might not have known that well.
Nelson believes the company’s long-term success is rooted in its relationship with its employees, and that relationship is strengthened through endeavors such as MercyforMemphis and Clean Memphis.
“We’re all about continuing to be the best at what we do,” said Nelson. “Just because we’ve been at this 77 years, doesn’t mean we still don’t have a lot to learn. We still want to invest in the city. We want Memphis to be a better place because we’re here.”