The story of Okland Construction begins far from Salt Lake City. The company was started in 1918 by Norwegian boat builder John Okland, who immigrated to America, drawn here by a chance encounter. He launched a company that four generations later continues to shape the skyline of the new West.
"He was coming from Norway to study engineering and live with an uncle in North Dakota," says Randy Okland, current Okland Construction board chairman. He recounts the story of his grandfather's passage to America in the early 1900s. "He met my grandmother [a recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] on the boat. She was on her way to Salt Lake City. He ended up following her here, where he installed millwork and did carpentry," Okland says. "He was a skilled carpenter and he knew quality work. Eventually, he was asked by people to take on larger and larger jobs, and in 1918 he established Okland Construction to do that work."
Thousands of projects later, the company is still part of the Okland family, led by John Okland's great-grandsons—Bill Okland as president and Brett Okland as executive vice president. Okland Construction reported 2012 revenue of $593.6 million, tops for general contractors based in the Mountain States region. Engineering News-Record ranked Okland 90th among general contractors nationwide in 2012. The company rose to 67 in the U.S. for volume of work in 2013. It has a bonding capacity of $1.1 billion.
Okland has worked in 28 states. Still based in Salt Lake City, the firm also works extensively in southeastern Idaho and maintains offices in Durango, Colo.; Tempe, Ariz.; and Honolulu. Okland's 600 employees perform work in all major areas of vertical construction, with a focus on health care, civil and municipal projects, office and corporate buildings and higher-education facilities.
Okland Construction's recent portfolio includes work on several high-profile projects in Utah, including the $110-million Adobe Software Campus in Lehi, the $125-million Salt Lake City Public Safety Building (ENR Mountain States 2/27/12 p. 49), the $68-million Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building at the University of Utah and eBay's new Global Customer Service Center in Draper, Utah.
The company shifted to doing larger commercial projects in the years following World War II after Randy's father, Jack, graduated from the University of Utah and joined founder John Okland in the business.
"We had been doing residential work and smaller buildings, but when my father joined the company, they wanted to move to larger projects," Randy says. "In the early '60s, one of the first large projects was the new residence halls [Helaman Halls] at Brigham Young University. At the time, it was a $3.5-million job. Today, that would be closer to $50 million. Around the same time, we did our first high-rise building, the 19-story Kennecott building [now called Gateway East, headquarters for Zions Bank in Salt Lake City]. Those were key projects that took us into larger commercial work."
John Okland's early ties to the LDS church helped the firm land many church-related projects in the state and outside of Utah over the years.
"My grandfather did work building chapels for the church in Arizona in his early years," Randy says. "The church has been our major client in other states where we now have offices. It gave us the opportunity to establish ourselves and start doing work for other clients."
In 1974, the LDS church selected Okland to renovate and expand its temple in Mesa, Ariz. More projects followed, and Okland established a permanent office in Tempe in 1978. Work at LDS church properties in Hawaii led to the opening of the Honolulu office. The majority of the company's Idaho work is on and around the Brigham Young University campus in Rexburg. The firm recently completed the $50-million Tempe Center for the Arts and is currently building an LDS temple in Gilbert, Ariz. Okland has built eight temples for the LDS church in Mexico.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, contracts from the Dept. of Defense for building silos for the Minuteman Missile program led Okland to expand throughout the West and into the Midwest, Randy says.