Within the regional ranks of top specialty contractors, few have matched the growth trajectory of JRC Mechanical. During the last decade, the Chesapeake, Va.-based firm’s revenue has grown more than tenfold. Through rapid expansion of its mechanical capabilities and the addition of a mechanical and plumbing service business, the company has emerged as one of the top firms in the Hampton Roads area. Along the way, it has evolved from primarily a commercial and residential contractor to one with capabilities in health care, schools and government facilities. Last year, the company increased its regional revenue by 16.41% to $87.98 million, ranking 10th on this year’s MidAtlantic Top Specialty Contractors list. Along the way, the company has managed to maintain its commitment to a family-like culture and improve the well-being of its employees through an enhanced focus on safety. Given the company’s notable success in recent years, ENR MidAtlantic has named JRC Mechanical its 2023 Specialty Contractor of the Year.

Founded by James Richard Covington in 1990, JRC started as a small plumbing contractor in Chesapeake, adding mechanical capabilities over the years and eventually growing to a multimillion-dollar business. In 2015, the company was purchased by Webb Mechanical Holdings, an entity led by Howard Webb, former head of ColonialWebb Contractors.

JRC Mechanical

JRC Mechanical has grown its business by more than 16% year over year while its safety record has only gotten stronger. The firm has 320 employees and three offices in Virginia. It also services customers in northeastern North Carolina.
Photo courtesy JRC Mechanical LLC

Webb sold ColonialWebb to national conglomerate Comfort Systems USA in 2010, and he was looking for an opportunity to work with a smaller contractor again, recalls Nathan Berryman, executive vice president of construction at JRC. “Howard wanted to get involved, but more on the investor side,” he says. “He missed the people and the family environment. That’s one of our big mottos—‘It’s about the family.’ Howard wanted employees to feel like they were more than just a number.”

Although Webb was attracted to the family atmosphere at JRC, Berryman says he saw the opportunity to grow the business while maintaining its culture. At the time of the purchase, Berryman says the company saw annual revenue of around $7 million. To help take the company to the next level, the company brought in Sam Sease as president in 2017. Sease built his career working for Johnson Controls, Siemens and ColonialWebb. “We had lost money the prior year [before I started], so the first thing to do was to grow the business and start making money again,” Sease says.

Rivers Casino

JRC Mechanical has worked on several large projects recently, including the $340-million Rivers Casino in Portsmouth, Va.
Photo courtesy JRC Mechanical LLC

More Mechanical

One major growth opportunity was to expand its mechanical business. Berryman says that when he joined the firm in 2014, the company had one primary customer. “They were—and continue to be—a good customer, but we needed to have several good customers,” he says.

With that, the company also established its ability to take on large projects. One milestone in that effort was its work on Icon Norfolk—a 24-story, 269-unit apartment project led by Whiting-Turner that completed in 2017.

“We’re in an area where there are probably 50 different [federal facilities] within a 60-mile radius. We knew we needed to make the move, so we jumped in with both feet.”
— Nathan Berryman, Executive Vice President, JRC Mechanical

Part of that strategy also meant diversifying its pipeline of projects. During his tenure, Berryman has seen the company’s portfolio expand from primarily commercial and residential projects to also include health care, K-12, higher education and government facilities. That meant learning to navigate public procurement projects. Sease says the company ventured into federal projects in 2019 out of necessity. “We saw the commercial side of our business softening,” he says. “We’re in an area where there are probably 50 different [federal facilities] within a 60-mile radius. We knew we needed to make the move, so we jumped in with both feet.”

Its public procurement strategy could prove to be vital for the future health of the company. “We’d like to be about half public and half private, but it may end up being more public work because of interest rates dragging down the private market,” he adds.

A critical part of its approach to public work is focusing on alternative delivery methods beyond traditional hard-bid work. The company has specifically targeted design-build projects and work where it can be involved in a design-assist role. Berryman says it’s the most responsible approach for the financial health of the company. “We’re not interested in having to fight for money at the end of the project,” he says. “We want to put the responsible amount of money into a project, where we cover costs, we make a respectable profit and our people get paid. By being involved upfront, we take a lot of the uncertainty out of it. I’m not interested in taking a bunch of risk on low margin work.”

Rivers Casino

For the Rivers Casino project, JRC provided and installed the HVAC, plumbing systems and building automation systems on one of Virginia’s first fully operational casinos.
Photo courtesy JRC Mechanical LLC

General contractor MEB has tapped JRC for multiple projects in recent years, including several design-build projects valued at between $60 million and $100 million, says Mark Olmstead, executive vice president at MEB.

“They bring good information to the table,” he says. “They’re effective working with not only the designers, but the equipment reps and manufacturers. That is always the weak link, so if you get that good chemistry, then you can take a lot of risk out of a project early on.”

Olmstead says that although the company has grown considerably in recent years, he sees JRC expanding its capabilities while maintaining its ability to give full attention to its projects.

As part of enhancing its capabilities, the company has expanded its virtual design and construction skills as well as prefabrication offerings. The company also recently added in-house sheet metal capabilities. “We were subcontracting to three or four sheet metal vendors, but that became a limiter and we were not able to adequately keep up,” Berryman says.

Overall, its strategies have paid off. The construction side of the business, which saw about $7 million in annual revenue a decade ago, now accounts for roughly $60 million in annual revenue.

Some of JRC’s Key Projects Include:

Rivers Casino in Portsmouth, Va.

JRC provided and installed the HVAC, plumbing systems and building automation systems on one of Virginia’s first fully operational casinos.

P1035 Corrosion Control and Paint Hangar Facility at Naval Station Norfolk, Va.

Located in the center of Naval Station Norfolk, the new Corrosion Control and Paint Facility will provide a three-bay hangar facility for several aircraft. JRC is providing and installing the HVAC, plumbing and building automation systems for the facility as well as industrial piping for steam and various air systems and spraying systems and components.

Fort Eustis/Langley, Va., Battalion Complex

JRC is providing and installing the HVAC, plumbing, industrial piping and building automation systems for the 125,000-sq-ft multistory Operations Building, a secure facility that will house operational and administrative spaces including a controlled access area, armory, private and open offices and multipurpose team room.


JRC performs design-build work along with design-assist, preconstruction services, performance contracting, hard bid to plans and specifications and value engineering services.
Photo courtesy JRC Mechanical LLC

Commitment to Service

As the construction business grew, the company eyed another untapped market—plumbing and mechanical service. Sease says that although the company considered buying an existing service company to get its feet planted in the market, the company ultimately chose to build it from scratch. Sease built the business line by offering existing employees opportunities for advancement on the service side. Within five years, JRC Service grew to a $20-million business.

Among its large service contracts customers is Chesapeake Public Schools, where JRC holds an annual service contract. “They are always very responsive to our needs,” says Robert Scott, supervisor of school plants at Chesapeake Public Schools. “I can call them and within a half an hour they have someone on site.”

In addition to taking care of clients, JRC remains focused on taking care of its employees as well. Berryman says that when he started, he knew all of his foremen on a first name basis and, although the company now has 320 employees, he strives to maintain those relationships. “We used to sit around a big lunch table, and every Friday someone would cook lunch for the whole office,” he recalls. “Fast forward to today and the table has gotten bigger, but we still gather and have lunch together.”

Showing care for employees included an increased focus on safety. Over the past decade, the company has been involved in programs such as the Associated Builders and Contractors STEP safety management system. Since 2017, its experience modification rating has improved to 0.62 from 0.98, earning it ABC STEP Platinum awards over the past two years.

Although the company has seen dramatic growth, JRC executives say it’s time for the company to settle in to its current size. “We’ve accomplished what we set out to do [in terms of growth], now let’s see how efficient we can get with this,” says Berryman. “It’s time to dial things in.”

Berryman says the company is also happy with its current regional reach, including its offices in Chesapeake, Yorktown and South Chesterfield, near Richmond. Still, he hopes that one day the firm could expand to another market, such as Raleigh, N.C.

Succession will also be a big part of the company’s strategy in the next couple of years. Sease plans to retire within three years, when Berryman will assume the role of president. “We’ve accomplished a lot over the last several years, and it’s time to groom my heir apparent and set him up for future success,” Sease says.