Unemployment among U.S. military veterans continues to be a problem nationwide and in the Delmarva region. At the same time, the construction industry continues to grapple with a skilled labor shortage.
For nearly a decade, one ABC Maryland member firm has been focused on addressing both issues. Since 2013, Delmarva Veteran Builders’ mission has been to provide quality construction jobs for local Delmarva veterans.
“We’ve maintained that goal since our inception. To date 50% of our workforce includes veterans, National Guard, and reservists,” says Chris Eccleston, a six-year Navy veteran, founder, and president of the Salisbury-based general contractor. Daniel Mills, DVB’s vice president of development, also served 9 of his 10 active-duty years in the U.S. Air Force.
Coming out of the Navy, Eccleston says he wanted to work in an industry that offered tangible results. “I wanted to visually see changes being made and the success of my efforts,” says Eccleston, who went back to college to get his construction management degree. During that time, he landed a job as laborer for a guy flipping houses. Since 2007, Eccleston has worked in the industry managing over $100 million in commercial construction projects across Delmarva.
While a general contracting firm, Delmarva Veteran Builders specializes in convenience store construction for some of the major C-store brands in the region. It recently started its 14th such project. In the past two years, DVB has also created a successful niche in cannabis work in the mid-Atlantic region, building both cultivation facilities and retail stores.
DVB is currently restoring a WW2 artillery tower that includes spiral stairs with an observation deck at the Delaware Seashore State Park in Rehoboth Beach. They’re also re-decking the iconic Ocean City Boardwalk, adding to the long line of contractors that have taken on the project over the last 100 years. “The city has voted to install the real wood boards versus composite boards to preserve the nostalgic feel,” says Eccleston. “Part of our mission statement reiterates that our community deserves service built with character.”
But what really sets DVB apart is its focus on its culture and its people, says Eccleston. “Our project delivery is unique because a majority of our workforce has been trained not to fail, operate as a team, and deliver results all thanks to the United States Armed Forces.”
All employees, veteran and civilian alike, operate under the tagline: “Grit Leads to Greatness,” says Eccleston. “We believe the people we hire, despite veteran status, exhibit grit. When we say grit, we mean they possess the quality of character and an unyielding drive to overcome challenges faced every day in the construction industry. We view our projects and construction as a mechanism to live and breathe our mission, core values, and vision.”
To this end, DVB launched a professional development curriculum in 2020 focusing on three specific areas: technical skills, safety, and leadership. The company holds monthly training for the entire staff to discuss these topics in-depth and how they relate to current projects, customers, and industry partners. DVB also provides employees with construction related courses and the opportunity to attend national construction conferences.
“The goal is to challenge ourselves to think differently while solving problems,” says Eccleston. “Currently, we are also developing a curriculum for a new superintendent training program, which in turn, creates a legacy project for our senior superintendents. Our vision is simple: Who we build changes the world.”
Providing jobs for veterans isn’t the only way DVB gives back to the Delmarva community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Eccleston and his staff started having real discussions about whether non-profits were going to make it, says Eccleston. To help bolster community non-profits, DVB launched The Endeavor Grant.
“This is not your typical grant. It’s truly a collaborative journey to make an impact that will far exceed anything DVB can do alone,” says Eccleston. “We are looking for a partnership with a non-profit in our community to help us live our core values and spread the cause they are so passionate about. In this partnership, we would not only provide financial help of up to $25,000.00, but we would be sharing in completing objectives and culture growth that includes learning and teaching opportunities for both organizations during the calendar year.”
Once the grantee has been awarded, DVB and the winner will work together to determine where help is needed: to enhance a specific project or initiative or operating funds for the purpose of delivering core values. The grant will be awarded to a non-profit aligned with DVB’s mission, values, and vision. “Working together we drive each other to greatness,” says Eccleston.
Not content to leave skilled craftworker shortage unaddressed, DVB came up with a creative solution to that, too. They wrote a children’s book to teach parents and kids about the construction industry. “Our book, Grit Leads to Greatness, focuses on teaching kids a sense of adventure, putting a heroic spotlight on the trades and tradespeople, teaching our core values, and believing in yourself,” says Eccleston.
For more on Delmarva Veteran Builders go to www.delmarvaveteranbuilders.com.