History

Construction Company in Cleveland Ohio - Serving NE Ohio Since 1948

The Great Lakes Construction Co. is one of Cleveland's premier civil construction companies, with more than $120 million in sales. The construction company was founded in 1948 by Frank Converse Jr., a graduate in civil engineering from Case Institute of Technology who managed the technical side of the business, and Art Cushing, an operating engineer/crane operator with a broad base of experience in construction. Two other key players in the early years were John Marano, lead estimator, and Carroll Nelson, head of operations.

The construction company started with a handful of employees working out of a trailer beneath the Detroit-Superior Bridge in Cleveland's Industrial Flats. Early projects grew out of a tremendous post-World War II demand for new roads and housing, where Great Lakes Construction earned its stripes as an excavation expert. The company rapidly moved into sewer and impoundment projects, highway alignments, heavy earthmoving and concrete paving.

A major turning point for The Great Lakes Construction Co. came in 1957, when the firm successfully bid on and completed its first section of interstate highway, a portion of I-77 in downtown Canton, Ohio. Interstate projects have created the bulk of Great Lakes Construction's business ever since. The Jennings Freeway project, for example, was a $50 million project that included excavation work, intricate bridgework — some with concrete piers standing 50-feet tall — and six lanes of concrete pavement.

In the early 1960s the company stretched in a new direction after winning its first major bid in the private sector. The project was a large site preparation and earth-work job at a power plant for American Electric Power (AEP) in Brilliant, Ohio. Great Lakes Construction has since completed many more contracts for AEP, First Energy and other utilities over the years.

The first senior management change in the company's history occurred during the late 1970s when Bruce Gilbert, a young Harvard MBA who had joined Great Lakes Construction in 1968, was named chief operating officer and president. Six years later, Frank Converse retired and Mr. Gilbert was appointed CEO. Converse sold his 40 percent ownership back to the company, which had become an employee-owned company, also known as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or ESOP.

At about the same time, Great Lakes Construction's project pendulum swung back to interstate construction, offsetting a downturn in power plant construction and a retrenchment of the steel industry. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Great Lakes Construction completed the final sections of I-480 around Cleveland, I-675 around Dayton and the Southern Tier Expressway through Pennsylvania.

By late 1997 the third management change in the construction company's history was announced when another young engineer with an MBA, George Palko, was named president and Bruce Gilbert became chairman. Mr. Palko began his career with The Great Lakes Construction Co. in 1987 as a Co-op student and in his tenure at Great Lakes, has worn many hats. In 2000, Mr. Gilbert officially retired as CEO. At that time the Board of Directors elected Mr. Palko as President/CEO.

Great Lakes Construction's senior management takes great pride in the opportunities afforded its employees. New employees can participate in the ESOP after one year. ESOPs aren't unusual in the construction industry, but a company that is 100-percent ESOP owned is exceptional, since many firms tend to be family-owned. Great Lakes Construction also has a board of directors including six members with no construction-industry ties who bring an outside perspective to the business.

Senior management also takes pride in its employees' credentials. The firm employs a higher percentage of degreed civil engineers than any of its competitors. Moreover, Great Lakes Construction employees are known to go the extra mile through volunteer work with groups such as Habitat For Humanity, Boys and Girls Clubs and First Tee of Cleveland. Appropriately, when the Cleveland Children's Museum first opened in University Circle, Great Lakes donated funds for the Over and Under Bridges exhibit in which children can build their own spans or see the inner-workings of scaled-down swing and lift bridges.

Today, The Great Lakes Construction Co. is positioned to serve clients from its headquarters completed in early 2000. The 55,000-square foot facility includes the company's main offices, warehouse, equipment maintenance shop and storage. It is situated on 33 acres in Hinckley, Ohio, south of Cleveland off Interstate 71. Great Lakes Construction had long outgrown its previous location in Independence, where it had been headquartered since 1956. In 2013, the company expanded into southern Ohio, opening a branch in Cincinnati to better serve it's clientele in that area.

Current projects include adding a third lane to interstates in Ohio and a return to more private-sector work. Great Lakes Construction wants to increase its presence and capabilities in the local market though growth in current fields and through diversification in areas that will complement its current business. The firm also seeks to increase its service to private customers no matter where they're located. Great Lakes Construction's quality record and on-time delivery speak for themselves. "We also understand and appreciate projects with a sense of urgency," states President and CEO George Palko.

"We think we have a lot to offer the private sector." Mr. Palko says. "We're technically more capable than other contractors."