A generational SPARK

Two brothers, two distinct sets of interests, but one common goal — the growth of the business their father started 70 years ago.

For brothers Harold and David Force, presidents of Force Construction Co., Inc. and Force Design, Inc., respectively, their complementary differences are what make their family-owned business stronger.

The work and legacy of the Force family will be featured at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s SPARK Columbus event on April 14.

SPARK Columbus events, which are sponsored by the chamber, JCB Bank and IUPUC’s Center for Business and Economic Development, are designed to be networking events for local entrepreneurs, said Cindy Frey, chamber president.

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Usually the featured speakers are entrepreneurs who have built their own businesses from the ground up. However, in the case of Harold and David Force, Frey said the chamber wanted to feature entrepreneurs who found ways to grow an already successful business.

“Their parents gave them a legacy that they’ve been able to build on,” she said.

The Force family first came to Bartholomew County in the 1930s when Don Force, Harold and David’s father, was a young man just beginning his career. The family patriarch spent his time doing farm work and building farming structures, such as milk houses. That work eventually led to him establishing Force Construction in 1946 in Columbus.

The business was a family affair, and David Force jokingly said he and his brother were hired as employees at birth.

“Before we had driver’s licenses, the activity might involve clean up or sweep up or mowing the grass,” said the elder brother, Harold Force “After driver’s licenses came on the scene, it would involve going out to job sites and working on them or driving trucks or whatever needed to be done.”

“Picking up trash — we seemed to do a lot of that,” David Force added with a grimace.

But the brothers said they never felt pressured into following in their father’s footsteps — it was something that was natural to both of them, and each found a way to play to their individual strengths.

Design and construction

With an interest and degree in engineering, Harold Force became the president of the original Force Construction Co., a position that allows him to focus on the contracting and construction side of the business.

But David Force prefers ideas and design, so he serves as the president of Force Design, Inc., a second business the family founded in 1974 to focus on the design aspect of the firms’ work.

“But we tend to fill in the gaps for each other,” David Force said. “Over the years it has kind of become a running joke where covering for each other, filling in gaps here and there, our identities get muddled between people sometimes.”

By working together to combine their unique personalities and strengths, the brothers have grown their father’s fledgling business into a large corporation with a presence in several states across the country.

In the early days of the business, their mother, Vera Force, oversaw payroll, accounts receivable and other similar tasks herself. But as the company grew into its now 250-employee workforce, those jobs were divided up into different departments, a change that often amused Vera, who was used to doing all of that work by herself, David Force said.

“The scale is very different,” he said.

Wide range of projects

Today, Force Construction takes on projects that range from private commercial, industrial and institutional building to heavy highway construction, two distinctly different building areas that, like the brothers’ personalities, actually go hand-in-hand, Harold Force said.

The business is self performing, which means Force employees are involved in a project from the original design concept — David’s area of expertise — to the creation of the finished product — Harold’s area of expertise.

One of the company’s most notable construction projects is St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, located on Fifth Street in downtown Columbus.

Originally designed by Latvian architect Gunnar Birkerts, Force Construction built the current sanctuary, and later the school.

Harold Force pointed to that project, and others like it in Columbus, as an example of the emphasis the city places on the design aspect of its famed architecture.

While great designers should be praised for the structures they imagined for Columbus, the contractors who brought those ideas to life are equally important, Harold Force said. However, it is often the designers who get the credit for the creation of new buildings and structures, while contractors are overlooked or forgotten, he said.

“Many of the things that were designed were unique enough that it required special creativity on the part of the contractor, too, to produce those designs and to solve a lot of practical challenges in going from a two-dimensional plan to a realized product,” Harold Force said.

“In many cases that involved as much ingenuity or more in the process than would have the creativity and the design itself,” he said.

As a personal business practice, the Force brothers said they make an effort to show all employees, whether they work for Force Construction or Force Design, that they are integral part of the company’s operations.

“Our goal, quite honestly, is to provide in a managed way growth and opportunities for the company and for the people that make up the company,” Harold Force said. “As much as we’re involved hands-on and we try to be, what we do as a company is the expression of a lot of talented hands and the dedication of a lot of good people.”

The value of repeat customers

The brothers maintain a similar mentality when working with their customers, they said. About 80 to 90 percent of their work comes from repeat customers who come back to Force every time they have a new project.

That fact, coupled with the reputation the company has established after being in Columbus for 70 years, motivates the Force brothers to perform above and beyond what is expected of them.

“We appreciate the dedication our customers have to us, and that strengthens our determination to do right by them,” Harold Force said.

“Columbus has been a good community to call home, personally and for business,” David Force added.

The excellence Force Construction strives for and achieves has earned the company statewide attention. The Indiana Subcontractors Association (ISA) named Force Construction Co. as the General Contract of the Year for the last two years, as well as awarding them the ISA ethics award for the last two years.

Harold Force said winning those awards was the highlight of his professional career and serves as the culmination of all the work he has put into his family’s business over the years.

“To have been recognized consecutively for two awards … is probably the one of the most gratifying things that’s happened to our company in a long time,” Harold Force said. “It’s not what I do or what David does — the people who are out there represent our company in the business transactions and the job site transactions that earn that reputation.”

Looking to the future, the Force brothers said they plan to continue in their family’s legacy of providing high quality construction and design work for the people of Columbus and in other communities around the country.

Harold’s son, Clayton Force, has already begun working for the family business, making him the third generation of the Force family to build a career within the company.

Local entrepreneurs who attend the April 14 SPARK event will hear the story of Force construction first-hand from the brothers, as well as their secrets for operating and growing a successful business. The event begins at 5:30 p.m.

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SPARK Columbus: Force Construction

  • When: 5:30 p.m., April 14
  • Where: Force Construction Co., 990 N. National Road, Columbus
  • Who: Open to Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce members, entrepreneurs, young professionals
  • What: Presentation by Harold and David Force on the history of Force Construction Co. and Force Design
  • To register: Visit columbusareachamber.com

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Founded in 1946, Force Construction Co. has served the Columbus community for 70 years by offering public and private building projects, both for individuals or companies and on highways and roads. Force Design, Inc. was established in 1974 to focus on the architectural design aspect of the company’s work.

Harold Force serves as the president of Force Construction Co., Inc., while David Force serves as president of Force Design. The brothers also serve as executive vice presidents of each other’s businesses. Harold’s son, Clayton Force, is a third generation Force family employee.