Erhardt Construction, the general contractor, construction management firm responsible for some of West Michigan’s most well-known buildings, turns 60 years old today.
Larry Erhardt started in the basement of his home on Woodcliffe Avenue in Grand Rapids and eventually moved the company from his home to 48th St. for a number of years. In the early 1980s Erhardt built themselves an office in Ada, 6060 Fulton St. E., which serves as its headquarters.
In 2006 Larry Erhardt retired and his son, Joe Erhardt, took the reins. Under the leadership of Joe Erhardt, the company continued high profile, downtown projects such as the Van Andel Arena, Van Andel Institute Phase 1 and the DeVos Place Convention Center.
With 88 employees and a portfolio that includes the Amway Grand Plaza, the Calder Plaza building, Butterworth Hospital and countless others, the prolific design/build firm shows no signs of slowing down.
“Joe was really (good) about developing people and building a strong team. I have to give a nod to him about investing in technology and developing people and providing opportunity,” said Ben Wickstrom, who joined Erhardt as an Assistant Project Manager and was named President in 2011.
Wickstrom grew up in Menominee, Wisconsin and received his degree in civil engineering from Michigan Technological University.
“The reason I came here out of ‘Tech’ in the first place is we’d just finished up Van Andel Arena. We were big enough to build any project in West Michigan. We had big project capability at a small company, where I could make a difference and be valued,” Wickstrom said.
He attributes the company’s success to its dedication to putting the client first (which is rewarded by repeat customers) and its diverse capabilities in several different types of projects.
“There’s nothing we can’t build,” said Wickstrom, who listed a cadre of current projects, from senior living facilities and multifamily housing units, to custom single-family homes and wastewater plants.
The past 11 years have seen significant growth for Erhardt, expanding geographically and focusing on diversified market sectors such as senior living, industrial, higher education, hospitality and housing.
Earlier this year Erhardt opened a second office in downtown Muskegon.
“We’re putting down roots in Muskegon. We want to maintain a local presence and hire local people,” he said.
Since opening in February, Erhardt has announced numerous upcoming projects, including the redevelopment of the former Catholic Charities property, redevelopment of 880 First Street, Muskegon Surgery Center and the Muskegon Museum of Art.
“It is a great honor to celebrate our 60th anniversary in West Michigan this year,” said Wickstrom. “Our 60-year journey has, to a great extent, been possible from the success and growth of our surrounding West Michigan communities. We are blessed to live in a beautiful region that has consistently achieved economic prosperity.”
Not only is Erhardt expanding its services to new markets, last month Erhardt was awarded the 2022 Safety Award of Excellence by the Associated Builders and Contractors, Western Michigan Chapter.
“Safety is our first core value,” said Nate Potter, Erhardt’s Safety Director. “Priorities and efforts can change as situations and problems arise. Core values are the foundations that govern how and when you prioritize and commit effort.”
These foundational efforts have been proven effective as this year also marks ten years without a lost-time injury for Erhardt.
The Covid Pandemic was an especially trying time for the business. Wickstrom is proud of his team and how they kept working even though the building sites were shut down for two months. He took what he referred to as “a huge leap of faith” when he decided not to lay off any of his employees.
“We were effectively 100% shut down. I remember that very first meeting. It was a video meeting. We weren’t doing any healthcare work at the time and our projects weren’t in the essential category. We were pretty confident that our job sites would shut down. We kept everybody employed. We did not lay anybody off, even our hourly workers who were at home.
“That decision was a no-brainer.
“We came through it well. I’m proud of our people. They kept having meetings and planning for when things did come back. They stayed productive, completely engaged, working from home. (It was) one of the most challenging times of my career,” Wickstrom said. “Now we, as a company, persevered through that and came out better than we went in.”