Case Studies

O’Brien Construction Company

Celebrating 55 years of building and community service

For over half a century, O’Brien Construction Company has been an institution in Michigan—building everything from car dealerships and multi-family apartments to public schools and churches in Detroit and its surrounding communities.

However, it is perhaps best known work done outside the commercial sphere.

Since it was founded in 1962 by Eddie W. O’Brien, P.E., O’Brien Construction has been active in nonprofits throughout Detroit, using knowhow in construction management, design-build, pre-construction service and general contracting to build multi-family and senior apartments for low-income families and the physically disabled.

O’Brien Construction Company

In the last decade alone, O’Brien Construction has donated over 2,500 man hours to nonprofit clients and various civic associations throughout southeastern Michigan. The company has also donated more than $700,000 to local nonprofits. One such organization is Life Directions, a Detroit-based nonprofit that motivates at-risk youth and teaches students how to mentor their fellow students. Many other nonprofit organizations across the state have also benefited from the philanthropy of O’Brien and its subcontractor partners.

With offices in Detroit and Troy, Michigan, O’Brien Construction encourages employees to participate in events such as community cleanups and even started hosting free seminars to teach local subcontractors and tradespeople skills such as insurance and bonding, small business law and Davis-Bacon payroll.

“Ed O’Brien always pushed us to give back to our community—even in tough years, he always found a way to support the organizations that were working to improve the local resident’s life,” says President Timothy O’Brien, P.E., who today is continuing his father’s legacy.

To celebrate 55 years in business, O’Brien Construction is going to donate $100 for every year in service, for a total of $5,500, to a local Detroit nonprofit, and it’s letting subcontractors, employees and community members decide which organization should receive the donation. Voting begins in July 2017 and will be open until August.

“I think [my dad] would get a kick out of the $5,500 for 55 years since we are allowing the subcontractors and employees who have supported our causes for so many years to now put their favorite charities in the running,” says Tim.

Local support for local charities

O’Brien Construction has always been particular about the organizations it supports.

“We really try to assist those groups that work on deterrence and life improvement for those that are facing educational or economic barriers that have been historically difficult to conquer,” Tim says.

This made O’Brien Construction the ideal partner for local organizations like Volunteers of America Michigan, a national faith-based organization that provides affordable housing and other assistance programs for low-income people. Many of these developments are funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development- (HUD) sponsored programs or the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

O’Brien Construction Company

Over the past 20 years, O’Brien Construction has built numerous HUD- and MSHDA-sponsored projects for seniors and disabled persons.

“[Tim] has been a tremendous supporter since the first day we started working with O’Brien,” says Alex Broderick, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Michigan.

Tim has also made sure the company’s support doesn’t end when a project is completed.

Case in point: Every year the Michigan chapter of Volunteers of America hosts a Christmas event called Adopt a Family, which provides thousands of low-income families with presents and financial support for the holiday season.

“For the last decade, O’Brien Construction has been the lead supporter of that [program], making substantial gifts each year so we can keep it going and make sure to provide for those families during the holiday season,” Broderick says.

O’Brien Construction has a long-standing partnership with Community Housing Network (CHN), another nonprofit organization that provides housing for the homeless, disabled and low income residents of southeast Michigan.

The company participates in CHN’s annual Bring It Home fundraiser, which raises money for the nonprofit’s Critical Needs Fund. O’Brien also supports multiple families through the CHN’s Adopt a Family program, which provides low-income families with Christmas grifts and household necessities. Every year, O’Brien even holds an office-wide gift wrapping event, “transforming the firm’s conference rooms into something akin to Santa’s workshop,” says Marketing Director Lynn Ross.

“Ed O’Brien always pushed us to give back to our community—even in tough years, he always found a way to support the organizations that were working to improve the local resident’s life.”

In the field, O’Brien Construction provides site and property evaluations for CHN’s residential projects and helps the nonprofit understand how to deliver the project on time and under budget.

In 2016, the general contracting company built CHN a 48-townhome project called Grafton Townhomes in Eastpointe, Michigan. The projects was completed in just 12 months and was delivered ahead of schedule. In June 2017, O’Brien broke ground on another 52-townhome project in Oak Park, Michigan.

“Working with O’Brien feels like I’m working with the Cadillac of construction,” says CHN’s Vice President of Development Kirsten Elliott. “Everything they do for us makes the whole process easier.”

In the past, O’Brien Construction has also worked with other developers, such as McKinley, Inc., an Ann Arbor-based real estate investment company, to provide affordable housing for working families.

In 2015, these two companies came together to build State Street Village, a workforce housing community next to the University of Michigan. The project provided two- to four-bedroom apartments for the university’s many employees within walking distance of their jobs.

“The quality of the finish work that O’Brien provides is really second to none in the multi-family business, it’s really extraordinary,” says Albert Berriz, senior vice president and managing director at McKinley.

The gifting anniversary

With the company’s 55th anniversary approaching, O’Brien Construction wanted to include these community partners in the celebration.

“At our request, many of our subcontractors and suppliers have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to our causes, hired local residents, bought materials from local vendors and contributed countless hours to community improvements. Here is a chance for us to turn that around and help them with some of their favorite causes,” says Tim.

All of O’Brien’s subcontractors and employees are eligible to nominate their favorite nonprofit for the company’s $5,500 charity giveaway. After the nomination process is complete, online voting will be open to everyone, including community members, to determine the winner.  The contest will be hosted on the firm’s website, www.obriencc.com.

O’Brien Construction Company

For Tim, it is a very special feeling watching the company celebrate 55 years in this way.

“Contrary to what the younger folks in our company say, I was not here when my Dad started the company,” he says. “But I have been around since 1974 so I’ve witnessed some very good times and some pretty tough times. Fortunately, we’ve surrounded ourselves with outstanding employees and really generous subcontractors and suppliers who allowed us to be part of their teams—what could any contractor ask for above that?”

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