Spence Brothers: 125 years of building in the the Great Lakes Bay Region

For over a century, Spence Brothers has managed, shaped, and led investment across the Great Lakes Bay Region. This Saginaw-based commercial construction company is in its 125th year of operation, transforming from a small, two-brother owned business into a large company that is led by fourth-generation family members, employs over 150 individuals, have managed projects across the state of Michigan. 

Spence Brothers, originally named Hugh Spence & Brother, was founded as a residential construction company in 1893 by Hugh and Matt Spence. Scottish immigrants and carpenters by trade, the two brothers saw the creation of their company as an opportunity to help repair the Saginaw’s East Side where hundreds of homes, businesses, and churches were devastated that year by “Saginaw’s Great Fire.”

By the 1950s, Spence Brothers had transformed from residential construction to general contracting for commercial developments. Projects ranged from churches to schools, hospitals, Federal Post Offices across the nation during the Great Depression, and even manufacturing plants for General Motors.

Spence Brothers has a legacy in the region spanning 126 years

Between the 1960s and the early 2000s, Spence Brothers’ portfolio of projects continued to grow. The company played an important role in the construction of notable developments across the state, including The Inn at Bay Harbor, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and the University of Michigan’s Crisler Center arena – which serves as home court for the University’s basketball team.

Herb Spence, President and CEO of Spence Brothers and a University of Michigan Alumni, recalls the Crisler Center as one of his favorite projects due to the family legacy of construction.

Herb Spence, President and CEO of Spence Brothers

“The original Crisler Arena was built by my grandfather’s and my father’s generations,” he says. “They were both involved in the original construction in 1967.”

In 2011, Spence Brothers was re-hired by the University to renovate and expand the original arena. “The Crisler Center expansion had an extremely aggressive project timeline. We had to get the project done basically between two basketball seasons – which is very stressful. We didn’t want to see our name on ESPN as the reason that their season was delayed,” Spence jokes.. “But it all turned out. We’re very proud of this project. It is a showpiece for us.”

Another notable Spence Brother’s project with generational ties is the Midland County Courthouse, located in downtown Midland near the Santa House and The H Hotel. The original courthouse was constructed by Spence Brothers in 1925. Similar to the Crisler Center project, Spence Brothers was then rehired to restore and renovate the building in 2016.

“My great grandfather and Herbert Henry Dow [the founder of the Dow Chemical Company] were both at the ribbon cutting for the original facility back in 1925. It just so happens that the Honorable Judge Stephen Carras, who is H.H. Dow’s great-grandson, and myself were both at the rededication ceremony when we finished the extensive and very challenging renovation of the courthouse in 2017,” Spence says.

The generational ties don’t stop with the Crisler Center arena or the Midland County Courthouse. The building that now serves as the new SVRC Marketplace, a year-round indoor farmers market and office space located in downtown Saginaw, was originally built by Spence Brothers in 1960 as the Saginaw News Building. In 2016, Spence Brothers was hired as the construction manager to transform the former news area into a vibrant mixed-use development in the heart of downtown Saginaw.

Wayne Hofmann, the Project Development Lead at Spence Brothers, mentioned that the SVRC Marketplace was his favorite project to be involved with. “It [SVRC Marketplace] was a once-in-a-career project.”

Wayne Hofmann, the Project Development Lead at Spence Brothers

“The ability to work for an entity who is tied to the community, who has really thought out of the box about the whole building, and who wants to take a gigantic leap…that’s a great feeling,” Hofmann added. “Also, the ability to help the organization overcome obstacles that they faced at the starting gate and to see their project serve as a tremendous asset in downtown Saginaw has been extremely rewarding.”

The ownership team at Spence Brothers is aware that their 125 years of success would not be possible without great team members.

Reciting the company’s mission statement from memory, Spence says, “To build trust and important facilities with great people and organizations driven to help each other and our communities thrive…I think that does a great job of describing the type of company and employer we are.”

“Our employees want to make a difference – whether it is at our company or out in the community. As far as leadership goes, we have people who are leaders at this company regardless of what their role is,” Spence added.

According to Hofmann, Spence Brothers’ success would also not be possible without the company’s positive reputation.

“Our success reaps from 125 years of our reputation. That’s been built by building some of the most important facilities in Michigan and investing in our communities right here in the region.”

Trevor Keyes, President and CEO of Bay Future – the economic development organization servicing Bay County, echoes the positive sentiment around Spence Brothers strong reputation. “I think the impact Spence Brothers has had on the Great Lakes Bay Region is immeasurable. They have been a catalyst and a conduit for economic and community development for 125 years. They have literally helped to rebuild parts of our community from economic ruin to economic prosperity. Their commitment to economic and community development initiatives throughout the region has been a driving focus for the company that has moved mountains in effect and will continue to do so into the future.”

As the company continues to look towards the future, there is one notable challenge. Across the nation, the construction industry is experiencing a labor shortage. The labor shortage has proven to be an obstacle for most construction companies – and Spence Brothers is no exception.

Spence and Hofman want to an increase in people pursuing careers in skilled trades, particulary within the construction industry

“In our industry, we’re struggling to find people to work on the jobs,” said Hofmann. “There are great opportunities for young folks or for people who are looking to make a career change to get into construction and to make a meaningful career – basically at all levels. I don’t see it so much as a challenge but as an opportunity for us and those who want to get into the industry.”

“There are a wide variety of roles that go into making up a construction company,” added Spence. “Some of those roles require four years of education or advanced degrees – and that’s right for a lot of people,” said Spence, “But I think it’s extremely important that young people and their parents realize that people can make a tremendous living without building up the debt that typically comes with a four-year education by really exploring technical trades careers.”

Spence also added that there is job security in the construction industry. “There are not going to be robots replacing construction workers because every site and job is different. These careers aren’t going away and there are going to be more and more openings.”

Despite the labor shortage, Spence Brothers is gearing up for the future. When asked about what is next for the Great Lakes Bay Region and for the company, Spence responded, “The Company will adapt and go to where our communities and customers need us to go; however, I do think that it’s a good thing that younger generations are much more interested in living and working in walkable downtown environments.”

Hofmann, also passionate about downtown revitalization added, “Younger generations see a lot more value in urban contexts and that is going to be the key to which communities ‘win’ in the next century. I think the Great Lakes Bay Region is on a great trajectory with that type of investment and we’re fortunate that Spence Brothers was able to play a role in downtown developments across the region.”

For additional information or career opportunities at Spence Brothers, please visit http://www.spencebrothers.com/.

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