Building for the future

Richard Wagner, president of Joyner Construction, poses in front of the new addition to Kanapaha Station on Archer Road.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 9:54 p.m.


President, Joyner Construction Inc.

PERSONAL: Married, two children.
LATEST BOOK HE'S READ: "The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey" by Candice Millard.
BEST MOVIE HE'S SEEN: "Cool Hand Luke" with Paul Newman.
BEST PARTNER FOR FISHING/KAYAKING: His late brother, Tommy Wagner.
BEST ADVICE: The Golden Rule.
CD CURRENTLY PLAYING IN HIS TRUCK: Ry Cooder, "Paradise and Lunch."

Richard Wagner hadn't planned on being head of one of the largest design/build companies in the Alachua County area. He hadn't even planned on being a contractor.
But he did become one, and on Dec. 16, the president of Joyner Construction Inc. (JCI) was named Builder of the Year by the Builders Association of North Central Florida at its 50th anniversary banquet and installation ceremony.
The company has been responsible for the construction of numerous high-profile residential and commercial buildings in North Central Florida - from condominiums in Horseshoe Beach, Suwannee and Steinhatchee, as well as several north of the University of Florida campus, to homes in Haile Plantation, Norton Elementary School, the Mercantile (formerly CNB) Bank on Tower Road and the golf clubhouse and fitness center on the University of Florida campus.
JCI has had a hand in almost all the offices in Tower Hill office park, where it also has its headquarters. It is in all probability one of the busier construction firms in the area, with more than two dozen large projects under way or in the final planning stages.
Wagner - who will turn 56 later this month - is a graduate of the UF College of Building Construction. A third generation Floridian, he entered the university with thoughts of getting an architecture degree.
"But this was late 1960s, before CAD (computer assisted drafting), and it was so difficult, with all these projects and homework."
He decided to switch to building construction management. There he met Millard Joyner and, later, Gary Schreiber. The three are now partners.
After graduation, though, Wagner said he wanted to get away from building, so he moved to Colorado, and then Arkansas. He and his wife, Mary Lynn Jamison, "were living out in the woods" when she became pregnant with their first child, son Ryland (named for rocker Ry Cooder). The couple moved back to Gainesville, where Wagner got a job with a small construction company. Disagreeing with the way that company handled pay for subcontractors, making it difficult to hire them, he drove over to a project being built by Joyner where he found out subs were paid weekly. He suggested they form a company together.
Their first commercial project was a building in Tacachale, then called Sunland Training Center. Then in quick succession came the mental health center on SW 13th Street and Williston Road and Holbrook Travel on NW 13th Street near 39th Avenue.
Wagner, who was doing all the estimating, managing and supervising, found the simultaneous tasks and the travel were becoming disorganized and overwhelming.
Using the MM Parrish/Charles Perry Construction Company as a model, they began to structure themselves like the venerable local giant. They even hired away one of the Parrish/Perry bookkeepers to help them set up an accounting system.
The small contractor became a solid commercial builder that now employs some 35 people.
Plenty of work, not enough workers There is plenty of work for them, Wagner said, but not enough people to do it. There are about 250 contractors and subcontractors in business in this area, but what is lacking is a younger generation of tradesmen - the sheetrock hangers, the brick masons, the rough-in carpenters.
"There's not many new people getting into the industry," Wagner laments, noting the average age of bricklayers is 57, of sheetrock hangers, 52.
"It's like this inverted pyramid. The building construction school turns out great people, but they want to get into the field as managers. You still need to get the work done. We've tried all sorts of high school and college programs, and we groom them some, but they leave for Orlando or Jacksonville, where they get $4 more an hour. They go where the money is.
"It's a sad state of affairs. The industry is hurting pretty bad."
The lack of available tradesmen has led contractors to utilize foreign help. "They work hard, long hours, rarely take a break. It's been good, and they have good quality work. It's too bad it's happening, but it is," Wagner said.
Specifications on most jobs require an English-speaking supervisor. He distributed a Spanish lexicon of construction terms to all his supervisors, so they could manage the many Hispanics working on the jobs.
He said a good number of commercial projects here are using prison labor, too, because inmates are being trained in the trades.
"Even though they have guards with guns, it must still feel like a vacation," Wagner said.
While Wagner said the 2005 hurricanes didn't really put the sizeable dent in construction supplies as was initially feared, what is causing costs to skyrocket is "the economy is going over to China, which is becoming a world power. All the steel is going over there. It's sometimes impossible to get exactly what you want here."
It's difficult to put in exact price estimates anymore, he said. "We try to put in clauses, but often we are locked into a price. We do know price increases are coming, mostly with fuel getting so high."
Fortunately, he said, JCI has a good track record of bringing in projects on time and within budget. "Banks know this, and when they are asked to recommend someone reliable, our name often comes up."
He views Gainesville's recent growth as being "rampant right now. The whole idea is to bring infrastructure downtown. But the philosophy of having people ride bikes isn't feasible at this time. The concept is good, but I can't see it happening. People are still going to drive everywhere."
Nevertheless, JCI is jumping on the bandwagon by building several condominium projects just north of campus, with the expectations University Corners will become what he called the "growth marquee" of the College Park neighborhood. JCI also did the Lofts at NW 6th Street and Destiny condos, wedged behind the Mellow Mushroom on W. University Avenue.
Community service and a varied off-work life Joyner Construction is also involved in community service, particularly its involvement in the Reichert House, a paramilitary after-school program for at-risk middle-schoolers. The 7,200-square-foot facility opening this month in East Gainesville was built by JCI and the Builders Association of North Central Florida.
"I'm not a big volunteer person," Wagner said. "But my son - who became an assistant dean and coach at Gainesville High School - had to suddenly deal with unruly kids. He had never seen that element when he was going to school, kids teachers couldn't handle. I thought, if they can't make it in the miniature society of their peers, how are they going to make it in the big world? When Reichert House asked for help, I raised my hand."
Wagner's glad to be back in Gainesville, quoting the oft-quoted reason of "such a great quality of life here." The family - including daughter Roxcy now lives on 3 acres off Millhopper Road.
Wagner's off-work life belies his big-builder persona. This fall he took a 20-day float trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with 15 other paddlers, surviving a flipped raft twice during the journey. He fishes in the Gulf off Cedar Key, where he has a second home, and kayaks the backwaters there. He does not play golf.
To relieve stress, he took oil painting lessons from local artist Ellie Blair for two years. Hanging in his office is his painting taken from a photograph of him and Mary Lynn on their first date on Johns Lake near Winter Garden.
His background gave him some advantage over other learning artists: "From being a builder, and having learned drafting, I have perspective down."
Marina Blomberg can be reached at (352) 374-5025 or

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