Longtime local building company R.A. Nelson celebrates its 40th anniversary
October 3, 2016
AVON — Bill Pierce has seen a lot of building companies come and go. Last week, he helped celebrate the 40th anniversary of a company that's survived and thrived: R.A. Nelson.
Pierce, a Vail-based architect, had already been in business a few years when former Vail Ski Patrol members Chupa Nelson and Bob Zeeb became partners in Nelson-Zeeb Construction. Nelson actually started the company in 1976, with Zeeb coming aboard the next year.
Zeeb left the partnership in the early 1990s and the company became R.A. Nelson and Associates. Today, the company has its more streamlined name, but is as big as it's ever been.
Asked how R.A. Nelson has stuck around while other companies have come and gone, Pierce said the answer is simple.
"They're committed to a good product at a fair price, and standing behind their work," Pierce said. "That's the difference between a company that's in business five years and a company that's in business 40 years."
Some of those years have been pretty tough. Nelson said the way the company rode out the tough times was by being smart.
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"When we downsized, we still maintained the culture of the company," Nelson said. People who were let go were given severance packages and other assistance.
"When you treat people fairly, and with respect, it comes back to you," Nelson said.
Pierce said he knows homeowners who still call R.A. Nelson if something goes wrong with their places.
"They'll send somebody over," Pierce said. "Architects may come and go, but contractors say (for clients)."
Building Beaver Creek
Jack Hunn, a Vail-based construction management consultant, had started work as a project manager for Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts) when he met Zeeb in 1982.
Nelson-Zeeb finished the condos in Beaver Creek Village, then a number of other projects.
As a member of the Beaver Creek Design Review Board in the 1980s, Hunn worked a lot with Nelson-Zeeb and R.A. Nelson. At the company's anniversary party on Friday at Maya restaurant in the Westin Riverfront Resort — which the company helped build — Hunn praised the company's long practice of "playing by the rules."
Nelson said that work at Beaver Creek helped establish several long-running relationships, including with East West Partners. The two companies still work together often.
Now a consultant with the Vail Valley Foundation, Hunn said R.A. Nelson is his "go-to" contractor for foundation projects. Recent work at Ford Park in Vail was done by the company, from improvements at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater to the new education center at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
And when Hunn's involved in a project, R.A. Nelson is involved in its earliest stages. Bringing a general contractor in to the first stages of design and estimating is something Hunn recommends to all his clients.
But, he added, "To recommend that method, you need trust and integrity."
Travis Bossow started as an estimator with R.A. Nelson in 1992. He's the company president and CEO today. He agreed with Hunn about the importance of relationships, and looking beyond the project at hand.
That's led to the company doing work ranging from ski-in, ski-out custom homes to apartments aimed at workers in the valley.
"People know if you do good work," Bossow said.
Doing good work
Those good works also reverberate into the community. When supporters of the Shaw Regional Cancer Center decided that center needed a residential facility for patients — called Jack's Place, for Dr. Jack Eck — R.A. Nelson was the contractor and then some. Countless hours of volunteer labor went into Jack's Place, an effort led by Nelson.
"It's not hard to get people out for something that's important to the community." Bossow said.
In a separate conversation, Nelson agreed.
"When you live in a community, you want to get involved," he said. "Jack's Place was another way to give back in a different way. We were benefiting people impacted by a horrible disease with an opportunity to get well."
That work gets noticed.
"They're great people, great community builders," longtime local developer Jen Wright said. Wright has also worked with R.A. Nelson on a number of projects through the years, and called the firm "one of our more important companies."
But Wright's praise for the company includes praise for Nelson.
"He's done as much for Vail as any one person," Wright said.
That work includes much more than simply building. For years Nelson has served on the boards of any number of local groups. He's one of the founding members of The Youth Foundation, something Nelson said was a natural extension of work the company was already doing in-house.
For years, R.A. Nelson had helped the children of employees, whether by providing education assistance, financial assistance with athletic efforts or internships in the company.
"The Youth Foundation was a natural stepping-stone," Nelson said.
Nelson isn't involved in the day-to-day operations at R.A. Nelson these days, instead serving as a consultant when needed. That means the company's future is in the hands of Bossow and the rest of the management team.
"I see the future for them — I don't think you'll see any diminution in what we do," Nelson said. "Everybody's who's been part of the company wants to keep this going."
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.