by Licia Jackson
Tri-County Paving Inc.—where today’s job provides a job for tomorrow
Paving roads in the western North Carolina mountains means facing extraordinary challenges. Curving roads can obscure construction workers until the last minute, making safety a major concern. When winter weather sets in in January, paving work must cease until April. And sometimes, a rockslide throws a wrench into a project.
For these and other reasons, it’s important to do the job right, says Lucian Jordan, President of Tri-County Paving Inc., a family-owned firm in West Jefferson, North Carolina. “Our philosophy is that today’s job will provide a job for tomorrow.”
Tri-County Paving specializes in commercial parking lots, North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) projects, private driveways and airport runways. The company name came at its founding, when it operated in Ashe, Wilkes and Watauga counties of North Carolina’s high country. Today, Tri-County Paving has highway contractor licenses in three states: North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.
Lucian’s parents, Leonard and Christine Jordan, established Tri-County Paving in 1977. Lucian joined in 1985, after he graduated from high school. “We had six employees, including my mother, who was part-time secretary and had another job in retail.”
Family Steps Up to Leadership
The elder Jordans retired in 2005 and Lucian became President. His wife, Patricia Jordan, with a background in nursing home administration, joined the company as Chief Financial Officer and Secretary. Other family members are son, Ethan Jordan, Grading Superintendent on commercial and NCDOT projects, who joined the firm in 2015 after completing diesel technology training; and daughter, Kaitlyn Jordan Cox, Project Manager, who is finishing her degree in business administration and construction management at Appalachian State University in nearby Boone.
In 1994, Lucian had decided to venture out beyond basic paving, so he got his general contractor license. The company began doing some small safety improvement projects, such as turn lanes into shopping centers and deceleration lanes. From that point, Tri-County Paving branched out into other kinds of projects, from airport runways to running tracks to tennis courts, as well as bigger highway projects.
“We never set out to conquer anything. We just watched the market for opportunities,” Lucian says. “We look at new opportunities as a challenge.”
Among the most challenging projects for Tri-County Paving have been the airport runways. Federal Aviation Administration specifications are very strict. “The bar is set very high, and there is no moving the bar,” Lucian explains. The firm paved a 500-foot extension of the runway at the Ashe County Airport, near Jefferson, North Carolina, with total runway asphalt removal and replacement. The extension lengthened the runway from 4,500 to 5,000 feet, allowing access by larger aircraft.
Another airport project was at Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where Tri-County Paving worked on two runways, rehabbing 1,000 feet of one of them and doing a complete rework of the apron area in front of the terminal. That airport has businesses that perform major aircraft maintenance projects, and while his employees were working there, Air Force One flew in for some work, as well as the New England Patriots’ team plane. The Patriots’ plane flew in as an all-white craft and left with football helmets and team logo, Lucian and Kaitlyn recount.
Answering When Opportunity Knocks
As an illustration of Lucian’s philosophy—No. 1, today’s job provides tomorrow’s job, and No. 2, make sure to do a really good job—he likes to tell the story of the U.S. 421-King Street project in Watauga County, North Carolina. The year was 2009 and the economy was tight. Lucian had talked with an auction house about selling off some of his equipment but found he couldn’t recoup what he owed on it. In November, he got a call from a contractor who said he needed a new paving contractor on the King Street project.
“He told me what to bring and the asphalt type,” Lucian says. The contractor had two failed lots of asphalt on the project. When that happens, the Department of Transportation (DOT) puts the entire project on hold until a test strip can be put down and tested. Tri-County Paving moved in and put down a 500-foot test strip, which was cooled with ice so that a sample could be taken to the lab. “Within two hours, we had passing results,” according to Lucian. That success turned into three years of work on the project for Tri-County Paving.
To work on the 421-King Street project, the company had to acquire a Blaw-Knox highway-class asphalt paver. So, in the same year, Tri-County Paving went from trying to sell off machinery to purchasing a major piece of equipment. “We were grateful for the work in a slow economy,” Lucian says. “This was a tough job, but they made it as effortless as possible.”
Creative Touch Adds to Ventures
The Jordan family brings creativity as well as technical skill to its ventures. An example is The Vintage Farmhouse General Store in West Jefferson, which Patricia Jordan and Kaitlyn Jordan Cox opened in 2019. Lucian had acquired a two-acre property in downtown West Jefferson in 2008, which he divided into four lots. Two sold quickly, but he was left with the historic Graybeal House and a lot behind it. Lucian, who is also a commercial building contractor, and son Ethan completed the restoration of the house to be used as a store. The store, an attraction for tourists, includes a commercial bakery, coffee shop, home décor, apparel and gifts. Patricia and Kaitlyn manage what Lucian calls the ultimate “She Shed.”
Oh, yes, and the family’s grading and paving expertise came in handy too, as the store has a massive parking lot for tourists and buses, along with an outdoor area for live entertainment.
On another front, Tri-County Paving performs work for colleges and municipalities. After paving other projects at Appalachian State University, the company is working on the school’s new running track. Last year the firm did a paving project for Watauga County Community Recreation Center, and this year got called back to work on a basketball court, pickleball court and two tennis courts. The company also does work for the Army Corps of Engineers, recently completing walking trails for The Boone Greenway in Watauga County.
Keeping Workers on the Job in All Seasons
Challenges for the company include rain and winter weather. “You can’t work in the mountains January through March,” Patricia says. “To keep employees working off the mountain, we depend on The Blue Book to find projects.” Tri-County Paving will travel within 100 miles of West Jefferson for projects. Another challenge is keeping up with DOT regulations, as asphalt specifications are always changing, Lucian adds.
Safety and training are major focuses at Tri-County Paving. Certifications among the employees include asphalt technicians, erosion control specialists and work zone safety certifications, Lucian says. “In January, when we can’t work on the mountain, we concentrate on safety training,” Patricia explains. Specialists come in to provide Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) safety training. (The latter is needed because employees must sometimes go into the quarries for supplies.) The company has daily safety meetings to point out what is unique about each project; for example, there may be a sharp curve that blocks drivers’ view of workers or a driveway may be installed on a busy highway. When workers are safety conscious, they are more apt to do a better job overall, Patricia says.
Looking out for each other is part of the company’s culture as a family-owned firm. The employees know that company leadership will stand in the gap, working right alongside them no matter what they are asked to do, Patricia says. Supervisors are trained in first aid, and any employee is ready to help a new person learn a task. Employees appreciate knowing the company leaders care about them, Patricia says. The workers also care about each other’s problems; on more than one occasion, they have teamed up to donate hours to make up for pay missed by a fellow employee with extended health problems.
Tri-County Paving makes monetary contributions to local churches and civic organizations, schools and sports teams. Knowing that the area has some extreme poverty, company leaders ask social workers what is needed as school starts, Patricia says. Clothing and school supplies have been donated.
The company provides its employees with heavy winter coats, shirts, hats and a yearly pair of safety-toed work boots. Tri-County Paving also gives Christmas bonuses and encourages foremen to take crews to lunch. The company has 49 employees.
Tri-County Paving is known for adding a personal touch, giving extra care to each job. The company got its start paving driveways and parking lots. A driveway can easily cost $10,000 to $20,000, a large investment for a property owner. “When laying out that much money, a lot of personal pride goes into it,” Lucian says. “We carry that over into our state work. We try to be a cut above the competition.”