Flexibility is key to new construction company’s success


William C. Dietz, KP News

Chris Gilliam at the newly completed Peninsula High School courtyard, which he was credited with making happen. Photo by Karina Whitmarsh

Chris Gilliam is the kind of man who looks at a problem and sees an opportunity. And that was the case with the central courtyard at Peninsula High School, where Gilliam and his family go to church on Sundays.

According to Mindi LaRose, who has a daughter at Peninsula High and was among those leading the effort to reclaim the courtyard, “it was a mess.” The courtyard was flat, with areas of grass and broken concrete that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to navigate in a wheelchair. But not anymore. As reported in the May 2008 issue of Key Pen News, Gilliam not only agreed to tackle the project himself, but sought donations from local businesses and worked with PHS students and their parents to refurbish the courtyard, completing the project in May.

Gilliam was paid for some of the work but donated a lot of time as well. Thanks to the contribution of his company and the other supporters he brought on board, the project was done with about one-third of the cost. When asked why he went the extra mile, he says, “I saw someone who needed help. I just wanted to do something for somebody. Plus I knew hundreds of people would be able to enjoy it.”

The courtyard before the makeover. Photo by Mindi LaRose

Gilliam was born in Virginia, his family moved to Idaho, and he grew up in Post Falls. In 1997, he moved to Washington state, where he became a member of the Laborers Union, and eventually the Operators Union as well, working primarily on underground utility projects. He now lives on the north end of Key Peninsula with his wife and two children.

“I ran crews as a foreman for years,” Gilliam says, “but I hurt my back a couple of times, and came to the point where I had to make a decision. Work job-by-job or start my own business.” And that’s what Gilliam did about a year ago. Most of his time is spent on excavation work, terracing, and water features but he’s quick to say that he’ll do most anything “that involves dirt.”

Since Gilliam is willing to tackle a wide variety of jobs, he’s been able to keep going while many construction-related businesses have been hurt by the downturn in the housing market. It also helps that Gilliam is willing to take on projects as far away as Seattle if they’re sufficiently profitable. And his strategy seems to be working. “In the first year, we’ve done pretty well,” Gilliam says cheerfully. “And that doesn’t usually happen with a new business.”

Gilliam was credit with finishing the project at one-third of actual costs, thanks to all the donations and discounted materials. Photo by Karina Whitmarsh

When asked to describe what he would like to accomplish in the next five years, Gilliam says, “I want to be able to pass it (the business) on to my family if they want it. I want to build my business on referrals — and not have to advertise. Eventually I would like to have a couple of crews that I could depend on, own my own equipment, and work mostly on this side of the bridge.”

In order to contact Gilliam Construction call: 253-880-2178.