WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — It started with a tunnel.
The year was 1923. Frank Blum had just founded his construction company in Winston-Salem, and his firm was hired to build a tunnel that connected the R.J. Reynolds High School (which he had helped build when he worked with another company, DuPont Construction) and Hanes Park.
It was Blum Construction’s very first project. Since then, it’s been hard to find a major structure in the Piedmont Triad that the company hasn’t built or renovated.
From the McCreary Tower (the press box) and Bridger Field House at the Wake Forest University Football Stadium to multiple buildings on the Wake Forest and High Point University campuses to a major renovation of the Lincoln Financial Tower (Downtown Greensboro’s tallest building), Blum has a large and diverse project portfolio.
And 100 years later, Reynolds students still use that tunnel to walk under Northwest Boulevard to get to the school’s Wiley Gym.
“I think it’s just a testament to craftsmanship,” current Blum Construction President and CEO Mike Lancaster told me recently as the two of us walked through the tunnel on a rainy day. “Something that stands the test of time.”
Lancaster’s been with the company just a small part of that time. A Lexington native, he first joined the company a little more than 20 years ago as an intern while he completed his engineering degree at N.C. State.
He worked his way up. In 2014, he became the company’s president. In 2018, CEO was added to his title. The company’s growth under his leadership has been phenomenal, to say the least.
In 2017, Blum Construction had 180 employees and $184 million in revenue. By 2022, the company had at least 250 employees and $405 million in revenue.
Keep in mind, during much of that time the United States was in pandemic mode with many businesses closed and the building material supply chain in crisis.
“We do a lot of work in senior living, healthcare, and higher education,” Lancaster said. “(Those are) probably three market sectors that you did not necessarily want to be in when the pandemic hit.”
But fortunately for Blum, those three sectors survived the pandemic and are still strong in 2023.
Another key to the company’s success has been Lancaster’s idea to make Blum a regional company, not just a “Winston-Salem company.”
“My view was that the world was becoming more regional,” he told me. “We had a customer base that started out in Winston-Salem, but now they’re (these companies) around the state or around the country.”
Under Lancaster’s leadership, Blum opened offices in Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh and Asheville in addition to its new 50,000-square-foot headquarters in northwest Winston-Salem. It moved into the former Inmar Headquarters on Pilgrim Court earlier this year.
Having multiple offices helps the company maintain a presence close to most of its projects.
Most of the people who work in those offices live in those areas. So they have a vested or a more personal interest in the success of those structures.
But Blum maintains a large customer base in the city where it started.
Today, it’s building the nearly-80,000-square-foot, five-story, more-than-$27-million Kaleidium Science and Children’s Museum which will open in early 2024 in the heart of downtown Winston-Salem.
In partnership with another construction company, Blum is also building the $450-million-dollar Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Health Care Tower set to be complete in 2026. This is Blum’s largest project to date.
“It’s really gratifying to see the community continue to grow and expand and use the vessels that we’ve been a part of creating,” Lancaster said.
But the company has, by no means, forgotten the very first “vessel” Frank Blum built 100 years ago. In fact, a visit to that structure is part of the orientation for each new Blum employee.
Every single employee knows: it all started in that tunnel.