The power of relationships will lead to a fresh start on life for at least one Wausau-area family after Alex Forer guided Larry Meyer Construction to complete a Habitat for Humanity house over the summer.
The house was begun by D.C. Everest High (DCE) School students last school year, but it was left incomplete when classes — and life in general — got disrupted by COVID-19 in spring.
Forer, who purchased the Wausau company from its namesake founder in 2018, is a 2004 Everest alumnus and maintained a good relationship with DCE tech ed teacher Chad Pernsteiner after graduating. Forer saw the Habitat program, which began a year after Forer graduated, as a golden opportunity for students interesting in building trades.
“National (chapter of Habitat) wasn’t allowing volunteers to help,” Forer said of the precautions dropped on the program in spring. “When we had gaps in our schedule, we’d have people go over and work on the Habitat house. Everybody was pretty busy, so getting subcontractors was a challenge. We even got one donor for the house’s stone facade.”
Forer and his crews picked away at what they could, and eventually everything came together.
“The family moved in the last week of September,” Forer said.
It was more than just the Habitat program that kept Forer in touch with his alma mater. He saw a potential pipeline of young interested students connecting with a vital segment of the economy, skilled building trades.
“It was great reconnecting with Chad on a different level,” Forer said. “Going in to talk to students lets me tell students my story.”
National (chapter of Habitat) wasn’t allowing volunteers to help. When we had gaps in our schedule, we’d have people go over and work on the Habitat house. Everybody was pretty busy, so getting subcontractors was a challenge. We even got one donor for the house’s stone facade.
— Alex Forer , owner,
Larry Meyer Constrion,
That story, in short, is one of a kid who was happiest working with his hands and seeing something tangible as a result.
“I can drive by someplace,” Forer halfjoked, “and point and say, ‘I built that’ and ‘We built that.’”
Forer knows finding help is no laughing matter.
“If you can’t find skilled labor, create it,” he said.
Forer visits a number of area high schools including DCE, Wausau East, Marathon, and Wittenberg-Birnamwood to talk about how he got into building and what good-paying opportunities await.
One such opportunity led to an alignment of timing that led to Forer owning Larry Meyer Construction.
He joined in 2012 as a carpenter and by late 2014 became a foreman, ordering and scheduling. As he grew more comfortable in that administrative aspect of the business, Forer began to rethink his future and mentioned to Meyer that he could see himself running a business like this someday.
“Then over lunch one day, Larry asked me if I was serious about that,” Forer said.
Meyer retired at the end of 2017, and Forer took control when the calendar flipped to the new year, and with a company that has one project manager with 39 years of experience and about one-fourth of the 16-person work force with about 20 or more years of experience, Forer knew he was inheriting a strong culture.
“I was most nervous because I was working alongside these guys, and now trying to be their leader,” Forer said. “Larry was a fantastic leader, so it wasn’t just trying to be some dictator. The main thing was you had to have a relationship with your customers. He’s been a great mentor, and he’s been around here and there.”
Like most business owners and leaders, though, Forer has had to navigate COVID as an altogether new challenge, but he’s tasted success in that realm as the president of the Wausau Area Builders Association, which reformatted its Parade of Homes amid the pandemic but still saw about 2,200 people pass through.
Forer estimated that Larry Meyer Construction is about half residential, 40 percent remodeling and about 10 percent light commercial. While a slowdown in commercial construction hasn’t had a heavy impact on Forer’s company, the extended time that people are spending at home is having an effect.
Forer estimated that residential remodels are up about 10 percent to 15 percent year over year.
No matter how the orders come in, Forer is taking a modern, tech-driven approach to handling it all. He’s implemented project-management software that has streamlined scheduling and communication with clients.
“There’s an owner’s portal that has pictures of the job site,” Forer said. “A lot of jobs, the job is local, but the people who own it are not.”