Andrew Berner is the president of Jetton General Contracting, a Paragould-based contractor specializing in complex and fast-paced construction projects. The 42-year old company started as an electrical contractor under the leadership of founder and chairman emeritus Kendall Jetton.
Today, the company does work nationally for companies such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Auto Zone, and Harp’s. With projects coming out of the ground in Northeast Arkansas and a one-of-a-kind project in Jonesboro, University Lofts, which will move Jetton’s headquarters to Craighead County, get ready to see more Jetton signs in high-traffic areas around the region.
Talk Business & Politics CEO Roby Brock discussed Jetton’s growth and its new investments in Northeast Arkansas.
Roby Brock: You’ve been with Jetton since 2008. How have you seen it grow over the last decade?
Andrew Berner: I would say when I first came to Jetton, we were a smaller organization then. We probably did about half the revenue we do today. So from a revenue standpoint, we were a substantially smaller company and from an employment standpoint we were a substantially smaller company, too. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of growth in our customer base. We’ve seen a lot of diversification over the years. We’ve started doing our own development and really just became a more diversified general contractor then we were in 2008.
Brock: You mentioned that you’re doing some of your own projects now. Tell me about what you’re doing in Northeast Arkansas.
Berner: University Lofts is something we’re really excited about right now. We took the idea from the city of Detroit Revolution. When the city of Detroit went through that early downturn before the rest of the country, there was a gentleman by the name of Dan Gilbert who went in and did “micro apartments” that were a huge success. My business partner and I said, “Hey look, we don’t really see anything like this in the university world.”
We think that now and going forward, the idea of students having roommates and being in a dorm-style setting is not ideal for every student. We believe students are looking for their own micro space that has full living amenities, so full bathroom, washer and dryer in the unit, living space, bedroom space. A large portion of our micro lofts will come either with or without a balcony. You can choose.
The footprint of those is anywhere from 350 square feet to 500 square feet. And so we’re really excited about it. We think it’s really changing the way that student housing is done … We wanted to keep the price point competitive with other student housing, and in order to do that, you really need to make sure that every square foot was properly used.
Brock: There’s a lot happening in Northeast Arkansas. What do you think of what’s happening from a construction and development standpoint and what do you see on the horizon for the region?
Berner: It’s gangbusters right now. It’s funny, I think of Northeast Arkansas as the Wild, Wild West. For so long, we chugged along as this insulated part of the country, this insulated part of the state that just saw steady growth. It was kind of like inflation. We just kind of saw that little bit of growth every single year. Maybe that new restaurant came in or maybe a hospital did a small addition.
Construction spending around here now is really off the charts. I’m seeing restaurants, movie theaters, cities within a city are being developed here in Northeast Arkansas. We didn’t see that back in 2008. Both hospitals now have huge additions to their facilities. We’ve seen ASU pour tens of millions of dollars into new construction in their campus.
One of the things on the table right now is this sales tax increase in Northeast Arkansas — which I am a proponent for — because I think it’s only going to bring greater services and amenities to us. I think that in the future years, you will see that Northeast Arkansas has a lot of the same amenities, a lot of the same facilities that are available on the west side of the state.
Brock: Last question. What’s behind your move from Paragould to downtown Jonesboro?
Berner: We feel like the hub of development in Northeast Arkansas is in Jonesboro and where there’s a lot of surrounding communities that also are going to benefit from this growth. This is the county seat. It’s where a lot of deals are done. And so for us, it made sense to be in the middle of that.
The case behind the development is we wanted to do more than just build the building here. We wanted to do more than just come here, and so that was our drive behind the development of the Stuck (and Sons Lumber Co.) building, which obviously will be occupied by University Lofts. It will be occupied by Jetton General Contracting’s new offices, and then there’s also retail space that we will lease out on the first floor as well.