Journey CEO: Managing record years while building for the future

Jan. 7, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Journey Group.

A banner attached to the crane soaring above Journey Group’s downtown Sioux Falls project symbolizes the company as well as anything: The view from the top is an exciting one.

Coming off three consecutive record years, Journey’s work can be seen across the region but especially in all corners of Sioux Falls.

It’s downtown, where that crane sits above Village on the River — the mixed-use project that will become the state’s tallest building — and where Journey is wrapping up a historic renovation to create Hotel Phillips.

It’s in the southwest, where Journey is working through the first phase of Avera on Louise — the largest building project citywide in 2018 — and the Avera Human Performance Center.

And it’s in the northwest, where Journey is focused on a major expansion and renovation at Dow Rummel Village and soon will start work on a new Sioux Falls high school.

“We’ve always felt like we’re a humble organization. You don’t want to toot your own horn, but people are starting to take notice of our great work,” president and CEO Randy Knecht said. “We are fortunate to obtain work right here and are committed to help grow and enhance Sioux Falls. We’ve got several large projects in town and are excited for another strong year in 2019.”

Other regional projects in progress include the performing arts center and a student housing project at SDSU, the Madison Cyber Labs building at Dakota State University, the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Aberdeen and continued work on the Fort Randall Dam.

Journey expects to see a number of school construction opportunities in 2019, Knecht said.

“In addition to the new Sioux Falls high school, there’s the new middle school, a Harrisburg High School addition, another elementary school in Harrisburg, and we’re seeing K-12 projects around the region as we track activity in Iowa and Minnesota,” he said.

“It’s a market we haven’t pursued too strongly in the past, but we see an opportunity to bring our expertise to it as we look to diversify our portfolio.”

Internal investment

Inside Journey Group, the company has been taking a series of steps to strengthen its team and its performance.

A “lean” approach to projects “has really taken root in our culture,” Knecht said. “Continuous improvement and being proactive and addressing our communication flow within the organization has been a significant change. It’s been very positive, and something we’re continuing to grow.”

After starting it with the commercial building team, lean methods now are expanding into Journey’s other business units.

“It’s one of those things that we feel has really transformed our company and sets us apart,” Knecht said.

Journey is comprised of four divisions:

  • Journey Construction, which serves a five-state region around Sioux Falls with expert construction services.
  • SFC Civil Constructors, which handles structural, transportation and sanitary construction projects.
  • Black-Top Paving, a full-service paving contractor specializing in durable asphalt paving construction and maintenance.
  • Ainsworth-Benning Construction, a premier commercial general contractor based out of Spearfish, serving South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana and Nebraska.

Across the company, there has been significant investment in professional development, beginning with senior leadership and now expanding into other levels of management.

“Where we’re really seeing the benefit is with leadership in the field,” Knecht said. “Our industry traditionally has not done a good job training people in soft skills —  teaching managers to be more effective at providing feedback to direct reports and establishing relationships.”

The investment in that training has led to great results, he added.

“It’s had a significant impact on the culture. You can feel it. So we’re going to continue to invest and include various levels.”

Addressing the future

Journey knows that to keep growing it will have to continue attracting and keeping strong workers.

“We brought a recruiter on board to help, and we’re getting out into schools with kids, starting with high school,” Knecht said. “We’ve been talking about ways to interact with them at an even earlier age, plus we’ve been working with Southeast Tech and the Career and Technical Education Academy to show students the opportunities that exist for careers in construction. We’re being much more proactive, which is needed not just in our industry but all industries.”

As far as the near-term future, Knecht expects to be busy through much of 2019. Major projects typically are landed six to eight months before starting, so later in the year and 2020 are still mostly unknowns.

“All signs in Sioux Falls and our region continue to be strong,” he said. “There are a lot of economists pointing to a slowdown in 2020, so we’ll be cautious, but we’re going to continue to invest in our people and in our community.”

Journey CEO: Managing record years while building for the future

With multiple big projects in progress, we sit down with Journey Group’s CEO for a look at the year ahead.

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