AT A GLANCE
• Name: EMJ Corp.
• Started: Edgar M. Jolley
• Headquarters: Chattanooga
• Other offices: Boston, Dallas, Sacramento, Memphis
• Employment: About 350 full-time nationally and 185 in Chattanooga
Chattanooga's biggest builder says it's seeing signs that retail construction is coming back after activity in the sector started drying up amid the 2008 downturn.
Jay Jolley, chief executive of EMJ Corp., said it has landed nearly $140 million of work on two projects within the past 30 days.
"These two projects represent two of the largest retail developments in the nation since the recession began," he said.
Burt Odom, EMJ's president, said a 910,000-square-foot development in West Palm Beach, Fla., is slated to start in June. EMJ's portion of the project is worth $70 million, he said.
Also, EMJ is building a 650,000-square-foot retail development in El Paso, Texas, Odom said. EMJ's part of that work is valued at $68 million, he said.
Each project will mean the company will add about 25 people to its workforce, including some in Chattanooga, Odom said. Those figures don't include the large subcontractor employment that will take place in the two cities where the projects are located, he said.
Odom, like Jolley, said the developments are among the biggest to come about in years.
"It's exciting to see them come out of the ground," he said. "It shows movement out of the economy in retail construction."
The contractor can use the boost after the downturn in building cut its business by more than half from the $1 billion revenue peak of 2007.
EMJ has built more than 200 shopping centers across the country, including many of CBL & Associates Properties Inc.'s projects such as Hamilton Place in Chattanooga.
EMJ took steps to diversity its business, relating not just to projects but size, client type and publicly and privately funded work, according to the company.
Last year, EMJ crafted a new division to better tap into the growing hotel industry. EMJ also has branched out into the alternative energy sector with subsidiary Signal Energy, a designer and builder of solar and wind farms.
In 2009, it started Accent Construction Management to help contractors with project development and financing.
Odom said EMJ plans to continue to diversify, but it's exciting to see movement in retail construction again.
"It's our first love," he said.
The El Paso project, which includes construction on an upscale retail area and parking garage, should start in May and take about 18 months to complete, Odom said.
The West Palm Beach development also should begin in the May-June time frame, he said, and take about the same period to finish.