Family-owned business takes pride in 50 years of building Rockford

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If you don’t like spending a lot of time with your family, it’s probably not a good idea to go into business with them. But one Rockford company has been running strong on those relationships for more than 50 years.

“It’s been a family endeavor from the beginning,” said Nathan Heinrich, Vice President of Rockford Structures.

Heinrich is Vice President of the company his grandfather started in 1966, Rockford Structures. Nathan is the third generation of Heinrich’s involved, and he grew up in the business.

“Our superintendents in the field called it my summer apprenticeship program,” he said. “I’ve hung doors and I’ve poured concrete, sealed parking lots. I’ve done quite a bit of the work out in the field.”

Rockford Structures is the company in charge of the rebuild of the Rockford Mass Transit terminal downtown.

Heinrich’s dad is president, and his mom and sister are also a part of the company. He says working so close with family members has its ups and down.

“I’ll tell you when it is bad is Christmas morning, when we’re talking about work instead of celebrating the holiday,” he said. “That’s when it gets tough… Because when you’re around each other, work is always there.”

It’s tough for any business to stick around more than five decades, but that may be even more impressive in an industry as cyclical as construction. 

Heinrich’s dad remembers the recession of the 1980’s, and the 2009-2013 slowdown is still fresh in Nathan’s mind.

“We’ve been very fortunate and blessed not to only have great employees and long term employees, but also have fantastic relationships with subcontractors and suppliers,” Heinrich said. “And that’s the true key to success.”

Rick Kluver is one of those employees. He’s been in the construction business for more than 30 years. Kluver is overseeing the RMTD project.

“We tore out all the interior walls. We tore out some of the exterior walls and now what we’re going to do is add onto the roof,” he said. “Whenever you’re working downtown on the streets, there’s always surprises. You never know what’s underneath there, between old trolley train tracks, old steam pipes for the electrical power plant…”

In addition to dealing with those surprises and getting the job done, Kluver says there’s a big focus on protecting workers.

“We all know safety. We’re all trained with OSHA classes and this and that, but sometimes, I see a point where we’re overwhelmed with the challenge of how to do the construction project,” he said.

Both Heinrich and Kluver say there’s a pride in what they do, and it’s a big reason that working in construction can be a rewarding career.

“I get phone calls from customers, that my grandfather built the building. And it’s still there,” Heinrich said. “And they want to remodel it. That means a lot to me, to know that’s something my grandfather worked on.”

Kluver said, “When you’re driving around with your wife and family and you look [and say] ‘oh, I built that’… There’s a lot of pride in that, you know? Life flies by and your career’s almost over.”

This week just happens to be National Construction Safety Week.

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