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Business Spotlight: Family Affair

Third generation of Carson-Mitchell Inc. assumes new leadership roles

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Chris and Jason Carson have come a long way since the days of pushing a broom around the warehouses of their family’s longtime construction business.

The cousins are the third generation to work – and now have a leadership role – in Carson-Mitchell Inc., started in 1946 by their grandfather, Chester Carson, along with partner Larry Mitchell. Although Mitchell left the company years later, the combined name has remained the same. Carson’s sons, Chester “Kit,” Jim and Doug, came on board during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, eventually assuming management and ownership positions.

Both Chris and Jason dabbled some in the family business during the summers when they attended high school but weren’t pushed into doing so. The desire to follow in the footsteps of their fathers just naturally developed, Jason says.

“They just wanted us to do what we wanted to do,” he says.

Jason began working full-time at Carson-Mitchell in 2001, followed by Chris in 2003. In May, the cousins took on new titles – Jason as CEO and Chris as company president. Both also became co-owners.

“My dad (Kit) is 75 and Jim’s 72, I think, and they both started realizing they might want to spend some of the healthy years they have left doing fun stuff,” Chris says, adding Kit and Jim keep an office at the company’s East Division Street location and continue to work part time. The company occupies 9 acres, with 6 acres dedicated to warehouse space, equipment sheds and storage.

Project pursuits
Chris declined to disclose 2017 revenue but says last year was a strong one. The company was awarded $28 million in contracts through 10 major projects and 20 minor projects, according to Springfield Business Journal reporting.

He says big projects generally are $5 million or more, which includes awarded contract and cost to complete, and smaller projects typically come in between $100,000-$500,000. Of those, he says, Carson-Mitchell likes to tackle at least a couple of the bigger projects and a half dozen smaller projects annually.

Jason estimates 75 percent of the firm’s work is public projects, with Missouri State University, city of Springfield, city of Branson, City Utilities and Taney County as some of its bigger clients. Carson-Mitchell focuses on a four-state region of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, but about 90 percent of business comes from southwest Missouri. Some of its projects include renovation of MSU’s Hill Hall, and construction of CoxHealth’s three-story parking structure, and the Branson RecPlex.

“We still perform public work where we’ve got a lot of things our people can actually do,” Chris says. “We also try to work difficult projects where not everybody has the internal staff to figure it out. That’s something we can pride ourselves on is that we have a technical group of guys – and we’re technical ourselves – to tackle the kind of job that nobody else really knows either how to do it, or more importantly sometimes, how to price it, how to bid on it.”

Another point of pride for the company is the relationships it has built over the past seven-plus decades with customers, sellers and suppliers.

Jason Baer, branch manager for the Springfield location of Berry Tractor & Equipment Co., established a business relationship with Carson-Mitchell in 1998 and has been renting and selling heavy construction equipment to the company since 2001.

“I always do some sort of business with them every year,” Baer says, adding bulldozers, excavators and haul trucks are the typical types of equipment he rents or sells to the company. Price ranges for those total $10,000-$50,000 per month on any particular project. Baer says he sometimes checks in on the Carsons to inquire about equipment needs, while other times he’ll get a call from them when they’re in the midst of a project.

“My business, especially in heavy construction, is all built on relationships,” Baer says. “If they call me, I will do what I can to take care of them.”

One piece of equipment Carson-Mitchell does not need to rent is cranes, as the firm has compiled a fleet of six over the past 20 years, with lifting capacities ranging from 8-350 tons and a reach up to 400 feet. It also employs six trained operators and 12 certified riggers for the equipment, which it rents out. While declining to disclose financial information regarding the firm’s purchase and maintenance of the cranes over the years, the Carsons agree the investment has paid for itself. But just to provide an example, Chris says the average brand-new 100-ton hydraulic truck crane can cost nearly $1 million.

Room to grow
Nearly 70 employees were on staff last year, but that total has been reduced in 2018 to 40 – a number Chris says is more average for the company. Last year, the firm needed more concrete flatwork technicians and finishers, along with demolition crews on major projects for MSU and in Branson, he says, which led to the uptick in employees. Once those projects concluded, staff size was reduced.

But Chris says last year proved the company can handle a larger staff when the workload calls for it and has room to grow quickly in its current building if necessary.

“We’re optimistic about next year,” Jason says. “It’s hard to predict much further out beyond that.”

So is the fourth generation of the family being groomed for another succession plan down the road? Too early to tell, says Chris. Both he and Jason have sons, but none are older than 10, and therefore future career thoughts are likely far from their children’s minds at this point.

“They just know we build stuff and have fancy cranes,” he says.

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