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Real Estate & Construction  June 3, 2022

Rapid growth characterizes Blue Spruce

NIWOT — Sandra Weeks and her team at Blue Spruce Construction Services build homes and businesses — and, in the process, have fueled their 25-year-old company’s rapid growth. But she hopes she’s also helped build a solid foundation for women to enter and thrive in her industry.

“When I first started” in the 1970s, she said, “I never saw women on ‘job walks’ where they invite the general contractors to come to the job and look it over before you present your bid.

“Now, things have changed,” Weeks said. “When I go to these job walks now, easily 50% of the people at the walks are women. There are women who do the estimating or the project management, and that’s all to me very encouraging and progressive, especially because construction is such a male-dominated business. Seeing so many women in positions of making a difference is very encouraging. We’ve been working a lot with a woman who started and runs — and is very hands-on at — what we call a ‘deconstruction’ company. I’m always looking to support women-owned businesses, so there’s been several that I make a point of inviting to bids, and I look forward to working with on our jobs.”

As pleased as she is to see other women in executive positions at construction companies, however, she’s disappointed because “what I’m not seeing is women in the field, doing the work, and we need to do something about that. If I see a woman in the field, hands on, with a tool belt, I make a point of searching her out. But I’d say that’s happened less than five times.”

And it’s not just women. One of Blue Spruce’s biggest supply-chain headaches of late is finding workers of any gender. Weeks is succinct about what she sees as a big reason.

“We haven’t prioritized the trades, whether it’s construction, mechanics or other hands-on work,” she said, noting that school systems and the nation as a whole push students to pursue college educations even though “not every kid wants to. That’s just not their priority. But the way the school-district tracks are set up, whether you go to a junior college or a four-year college, that’s what our school systems are geared to.

“I remember when I went to school, we had a woodworking shop, we had metalworking. You don’t have that in our schools now. I think you might be able to find a ceramics class. But the emphasis is not on trades, and we’re suffering because of that. We don’t have enough people in the field. We don’t have enough carpenters. We don’t have enough drywallers. We’re not funneling the youth into those trades. We all hear the horror stories now with supply-chain issues, shortage of truckers, shortage of tradespeople. And unless we change the way we think about trades, we’re going to be suffering the consequences.”

Weeks said schools need to change their approach. “It feels like going into the trades was a ‘less than’ field. Unless you were going to post-secondary education, whether it was junior college or four-year college, what you were choosing wasn’t as valuable. And we need to change that mindset. Going into the trades is valuable. You can make a really good living, plus we need the workers. It’s impacting every aspect of construction and throughout our economy.”

According to 2018 statistics compiled by the National Association of Women In Construction, even though women in the United States across all sectors earn on average 81.1% of what men make, in the construction industry that figure is a far more equitable 99.1%.

Women encouraging women though mentoring and networking groups such as the Women’s Business Enterprise Council can help as well, she said. “Maybe that’s a place that needs to advertise more, get more exposure.”

Weeks had no such mentorship in the 1970s when she got her first taste of manual labor.

“I was a single mom. I didn’t have a degree, so it wasn’t like I was going to go off and find a job as a teacher,” she said. “I was looking for a career, and this opportunity presented itself where I went to work for this cabinet shop” laminating the wood on affordably built furniture. “It was messy work but I liked it,” she said.

Her skills progressed to learning about drill presses, giant sanders, and finally building and installing the cabinets themselves. “So it’s like step by step. I got more exposure to construction.

“Then Crossroads Mall (now the Twenty Ninth Street shopping area in Boulder) had one of its big expansions in the early 1980s, and all the general contractors in Boulder were bidding on these retail spaces,” she said. The general contractor she worked for “asked me if I wanted to come into the office, doing estimating, because we just had so many of these jobs. That was my trial by fire.”

One of the company’s field superintendents left to start his own company, and Weeks joined it. “At that point I was doing more than just estimating,” she said. “I would go into the field. I would negotiate the contracts. I would meet the building inspectors, get to know the people in that department. So all of these steps exposed me to what it takes, all the pieces and parts of construction.”

By the mid-1990s, Weeks said, “I had been in construction all those years, and people were encouraging me to start my own company. So I did. I started Blue Spruce.”

It might have been tough back then for a woman to find investors to help her start a construction company, but Weeks didn’t need any.

“I started with just the funds that I had,” she said. “I knew sub(contractor)s. I knew suppliers. The suppliers gave me credit. The subs knew me, so I would bill the client and then pay out the subs and the suppliers. So it was just sort of incremental, starting small, manageable, and with the generosity of the people around me. I have an amazing staff, amazing people around me, wonderful subs, and it takes a village. Now we’re self-funded.”

Blue Spruce Construction Services in Niwot posted 185% two-year revenue growth, topping its flight in BizWest’s most recent ranking of fastest-growing companies. 

“It wasn’t that I had a master plan,” she said. “It was opportunities that presented themselves.” And her gender, which presented challenges early on, has proved to be an asset.

“Women are better communicators,” she said. “Women are more empathetic. Women want to make sure, ‘Are you happy with the way the job turned out? Do you have any problems? Do you have any questions? Let’s resolve those as we go.’ And it’s not just ‘Are we making money on this job?’ We do. You want to. You need to. But the priority is a little different, the emphasis is a little different with women-owned companies.”

Weeks’ son Brad has been working his way up through the company, from superintendent to project manager and now a vice president.

“This is going to be our best year ever,” Weeks said. “We have projects already lined up through next summer, so we’re positioned well, and the people I surround myself with make a difference.”

Weeks’ nonprofit work includes serving on the board of TGTHR, formerly Attention Homes, which works with homeless youths with an emphasis on housing. Her work on the YWCA board, she said, involves “eliminating racism and empowering women.” She also has helped steer the Colorado Green Building Guild and contributes work to SPAN, which provides shelter and a safehouse for people experiencing domestic violence.

But her main focus now remains steering the company through the post-pandemic era, which she described as “the best of times and the worst of times.”

“Property values are high. People are still working and making a living. People are either remodeling their homes or building new homes, and some of that is driven by that horrific Marshall Fire,” she said. “There’s a lot of work but we don’t have the manpower,” not to mention the supply-chain issues. “It’s 32 to 36 weeks before you get windows, and one company says 52 weeks. How do you schedule? How do you build? At least Boulder County is allowing us to work around some of those issues. They’re allowing us to plywood up the window openings so we can get our building inspections and move along. It’s not ideal, but everybody is trying to make adjustments in this crazy time we’re in.”

Those staffing shortages even affect Weeks’ plan to “semi-retire,” she said. “It’s finding someone to do at least some of what I do. I do most of the estimating and project management. So it has been a challenge. We’ve been advertising for months to try to find somebody to come in. Even if I stay, we still need somebody to come in and do some of that estimating and project management. We’ve been struggling like all the other general contractors out there.”

She can’t step back, she said, until she knows her vision for Blue Spruce will be protected: “That the company can remain viable and that we maintain our reputation for doing quality work and trying to make a difference in the community.” Weeks said that includes not just meeting but exceeding clients’ expectations.

“So if we can continue on this trajectory and have that stability, have that reputation,” Weeks said, “we’ll make a difference.”

NIWOT — Sandra Weeks and her team at Blue Spruce Construction Services build homes and businesses — and, in the process, have fueled their 25-year-old company’s rapid growth. But she hopes she’s also helped build a solid foundation for women to enter and thrive in her industry.

“When I first started” in the 1970s, she said, “I never saw women on ‘job walks’ where they invite the general contractors to come to the job and look it over before you present your bid.

“Now, things have changed,” Weeks said. “When I go to these job walks now, easily 50% of the…

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