The Rockford House

October 21, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — They had considered the move for years, and they made it a few weeks ago.

John Wheeler and Michael VanGessel, founders of Rockford Construction Co., took one of the region’s most successful and respected contractors south for a new home. The firm left its familiar Belmont address — where it had been conducting business for the past 10 years — and went to the far southeast side of Grand Rapids.

“Quite frankly, we just outgrew the space,” said Wheeler, Rockford Construction CEO.

Switching from 8165 Graphic Drive to 5540 Glenwood Hills Parkway SE wasn’t just a chance for the firm to order new stationery, but also an opportunity to nearly double its space. The company had 17,000 square feet at the Belmont location, which was more than enough room for a firm that had 40 employees in 1996, when it moved there.

But Rockford has more than 200 on the company payroll now. And the 33,000 square feet the new building offers over its three levels gives everyone a lot more elbow room — and enough space to allow the company to grow comfortably.

“Our future expansion is on the first floor. Our offices are on two and three,” said Wheeler.

Those who follow construction news already know that Rockford built the Glenwood Hills Parkway address for Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Michigan in 1989. And last year, the Rockford Development Group played a key role in helping the health insurer move into the Steketee’s building on Monroe Center NW.

“This building became available after the Blue Cross transaction, and we felt it was a prudent thing to make use of a good resource. So we chose to look at this as our new home,” said VanGessel, president of Rockford Construction.

Wheeler explained that Rockford was a partner in the equity piece of the building, in addition to being the contractor.

“We leased it to Blue Cross Blue Shield, who eventually bought it from us because they had an option to buy … and then we bought it back from them,” said Wheeler.

The office space in Belmont, which Rockford built in 1996, is for sale and is listed with Commerce Realty. The development side of the firm’s business is staying put at 32 Market St. SW, just a block from Van Andel Arena.

“Our development group is still downtown, and our commitment to downtown Grand Rapids is critical. So this is not a development move, this is the Rockford Construction headquarters,” said Wheeler.

VanGessel said Rockford Construction is growing.

“It’s been steady and we’ve reached some nice plateaus,” he said. “A 12-percent growth pattern is what we like to see, and we’ve accomplished that pretty well.”

A good portion of that growth has come from gaining work in other states. VanGessel said Rockford doesn’t pursue a market per se; instead, the company follows a client into a new region. For example, the Family Video stores that Rockford has built have drawn first-time customers to the company.

“They are a big reason why we opened an office in Charlotte, North Carolina. Since then we’ve been working with other clients in Charlotte, but they have been our main and initial client,” said VanGessel.

Rockford Construction ranks 206th on the Engineering-News Record list of the nation’s top 500 contractors. Even more impressive is that Rockford is now the 11th largest retail contractor in the country.

Besides having almost twice the space, the new headquarters also puts the construction company closer to the airport — which is a nice perk for a builder that piles up frequent flyer miles getting contracts and checking out jobs in other locales.

“We liked this building a ton from the first day we were involved with it,” said VanGessel. “So it just felt right for us to consider this our new home.”    

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