We sat down with Veneklasen Construction Steel Supervisor Clay Towns, a 40-year veteran of the steel building industry to talk about his start in the world of construction, what he’s learned over the course of his construction career, and how the industry overall has changed.

Q: How did you first come to work for Veneklasen Construction?

A: I had recently been laid off and my roommate at the time suggested I go down and apply at a place called Commercial Products down on Olson Street. He said, “it’s a boring job but pays decent money.” When I got there the door was locked and the lights were off, so I went to the business next door instead and talked to the receptionist at the front desk and she had the owner, A.J. Veneklasen, come out. He asked a me a few questions like “Are you afraid of heights?” and “Can you work in the cold?” I told him it was no problem and he said he’d think about it and give me a call.

Q: So, you hadn’t heard of or seen Veneklasen Construction (or A.J. Veneklasen General Contractors as it was known then) before?

A: Nope, although when I told my wife (Who was my girlfriend at the time) about it she said that it might be Jana’s brother’s business. Jana was a player on a softball team that I coached, and my wife also played on. I don’t know if she put in a good word for me or what, but a couple weeks later I got a call to come on down and start work on Monday.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your journey from an entry level steel crew member to the Steel Supervisor position?

A: It really is a story of putting in the effort. I worked hard and did anything and everything that was asked of me. I was the first person there in the morning and was always pushing the guys to get the work done on time. I took plans home and learned the blueprints. After two years I was promoted to Steel Foreman and eventually Steel Supervisor about 20 years ago. My wife was a huge support during this time and made a lot of sacrifices for us by watching our kids and taking on things so that I could put in extra hours and attention to my job so I am definitely thankful to her for that.

Q: What’s the best part of your job?

A: I think seeing the finished products of my work. My family gets sick of me saying “I built that building.” We go down the freeway and I’ll point them out “I did that one! Did that other one too!” I also love seeing the guys under me grow in their careers and find success as well. Even if they’ve moved on to other things or companies, I still see them from time to time and I feel like they appreciate what I was able to give them and teach them. That’s very rewarding.

Q: How has the construction industry changed in the 40 years that you’ve worked with Veneklasen Construction?

A: The equipment that we use has changed quite a bit. I started out with an Allis Chalmers forklift that had 21 feet of reach straight up. Now they’ve got SkyTraks that can shoot out and up. The buildings are also getting bigger and taller, which can make construction more challenging. Another big change over the years has been insulation. The r- values are going way up. It used to be that you’d need 6 inches of insulation on the roof and 4 in the walls but now they’re using IMPs or Simple Saver insulation.

Q: How about Veneklasen Construction itself?

A: Well, there is the size of the company. We started out with 6 guys in the field, and 3 or 4 in the office and now we’ve got over 60 people. We’ve also expanded the types of buildings we do as well. We’ve done sports complexes, industrial & manufacturing buildings, multi-family, and a lot more.

Q: What’s one of the most memorable projects that you’ve worked on over the years?

US construction employment data A: GAREAT Sports down in Ohio (now called the SPIRE Institute). Started that one in 2008 when times were bad. That one probably kept us in business at that time. We started off building an indoor soccer stadium and basketball court. Then we did a big building which was a 300-foot clear span for football practice. Then they did a third building where they imported a swimming pool from Italy. That was one of the first buildings we built with IMPs. I don’t know if they ever made it or not, but they were looking to get Olympic athletes training there eventually.

Q: Do you have any advice for those looking at the construction industry as a career?

A: If you’re energetic and want to learn it’s a great field to get into. It pays well especially if you’re there consistently every day and show that you’re reliable. Attendance is huge in my eyes if you want to be successful in a construction career.

Q: What do you wish for the steel crew and your other Veneklasen colleagues as they carry on doing the work you’ve done for 40 years?

A: Really just keeping up the quality of work that we’ve been known for all these years and continuing to stay safe on the jobsite. I want to see them succeed and being able to go home safely at the end of the day is obviously a big part of that.

Q: Now that you have 40 years of hindsight - is there anything you would’ve done differently during your construction career?

A: I would have asked for help more often. When I was younger, I thought I could do everything myself. Guys would say “You can’t carry that column over there!” And I’d respond, “Oh yeah?” then pick it up, put it on my shoulders, and walk it right over to where it needed to be. But I got two hip replacements out of doing stuff like that, so I definitely paid for it! Asking for help and leaning on my team members more would definitely be at the top of the list.

Q: Any parting words of wisdom for the management team at Veneklasen? US construction employment data

A:  Keep pushing to achieve your goals but don’t grow so fast you lose the company culture you’ve built. Listen to the team out in the field and continue to set them up for success. Keep up with equipment and technology changes to keep everyone safe and increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Q: Finally, what are your plans for retirement?

A: Golf! I plan to do lots of golfing as well as traveling around the country. Nowhere specific in mind yet, but it will probably be to somewhere warm. My wife and I also want to see a lot of the national parks so we will spend some time doing that.

We want to thank Clay for his time and for the 40 years of hard work that he has put in at Veneklasen Construction. We wish him all the best and a happy retirement. He’s earned it!

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