Building Greeley with innovation and involvement 2005 Bravo! Entrepreneur — Lifetime Achievement

His eye always on some target or other, George Hall has scarcely missed a mark since his arrival in Greeley in 1958.

He set about building the region’s most diversified construction business, and did with Hall-Irwin Corp. He sought the Greeley mayor’s office, and held it for longer than any other person in the city’s history.

Along the way, countless clay pigeons on the old Island Grove skeet range and pheasants flushed from eastern Colorado fields kept Hall’s eye sharp.

And while the title “Mr. Greeley” is appropriately attached to Joe Tennessen – the broadcasting legend-turned-bank executive – Hall could just as easily wear the mantle.

“You have to describe George as the role model for anyone in the community who aspires to leadership, whether it’s in business or politics,´ said longtime friend Harold Evans, the current chairman of the Greeley Water Board. “I’ve come to appreciate how humble he is, as well. That’s a quality that doesn’t often go hand-in-hand with the kind of success he’s had.”

Hall is so modest, so hesitant to talk about the record that earns him the 2005 Bravo! Lifetime Achievement Award, that friends become the most reliable sources for the story of what he has done for his community.

He’s a giver, all of them say in one way or another.

“There are a lot of people in Greeley who have contributed so much, but if you need to pick one who’s contributed in more ways – beyond the monetary, though he’s done that, too – it has to be George,´ said Pete Morrell, who served as Greeley city manager during Hall’s record number of terms on the city council and in the mayor’s office.

“He contributed sweat equity. He gets involved, and when he’s involved in a project you know it’s going to succeed. He’s a brilliant guy.”

Building a city

A fourth-generation Coloradoan who grew up in the eastern-plains farm community Brush, Hall settled in Greeley with his wife, Betty, when the city had a population of 20,000. Forty-seven years later, Greeley has more than quadrupled, to 85,000, and countless projects in Greeley and surrounding Weld County bear the Hall-Irwin stamp.

While Hall’s company left Greeley to build a gleaming new headquarters in Milliken two years ago, the city and Hall still claim one another.

Hall’s work began in earnest in 1963 when he and former partner Hale Irwin, father of golf legend Hale Irwin Jr., left their jobs as project managers for a Greeley homebuilder to form their own company.

“When we started, we had a couple of old backhoes and that was about it,” Hall said. Empire Excavating, as the company was known, grew into a construction company that built some of Greeley’s most enduring neighborhoods – Hillside, Cottonwood Village, Rolling Hills.

Hall’s political career took off with his election to the Greeley City Council in 1965. Thereafter, election days melded into one another over nearly two decades, culminating with his back-to-back terms as Greeley’s mayor during the 1970s.

At the same time, Hall-Irwin – not quite on a back burner – was nonetheless competing with politics for Hall’s attention. After buying out partner Irwin’s share of the business in 1968, Hall said he hit the proverbial wall.

Long days

“We had reached sort of a plateau with the business,” Hall said. “We were successful, but we weren’t growing. …There were many times I’d leave a council meeting at about midnight, ending an 18-hour day. I was really wearing myself out.”

By the middle 1980s, Hall had left City Hall behind in favor of a less demanding public service position as a member of Colorado’s transportation commission. Longtime friend Bill Neal, who died in a 2004 plane crash, said in a 2001 Business Report interview Hall was the state’s “foremost expert in public-sector infrastructure.” Neal, who credited Hall as his mentor, was named to succeed Hall on the commission in 1991.

By the late 1980s, Hall-Irwin’s diversification was in full swing. Bestway Concrete had been added to the company fold, along with an aggregate division that has become a core business.

George Hall, here in the lobby of his company’s former headquarters in Greeley, oversees the work of nearly 500 employees at Hall-Irwin Corp. and Bestway Concrete Inc., a company Hall formed in the 1980s.

Now, Hall-Irwin’s reach extends from the turf at Folsom Field at the University of Colorado, where the company installed a specialized playing surface derived from the aggregate business, to ponds flanking the Poudre River in northwest Fort Collins, where Hall’s ingenuity in water storage systems adds another diverse dimension.

In Fort Collins and Greeley, the company has pioneered water-storage techniques that contribute a huge measure of Greeley’s water supply – building slurry walls and linings that turn mined gravel pits into reservoirs.

“There were so many innovations, from a technical standpoint, that were all George’s ideas,” Evans said. “He doesn’t take enough credit himself for the inventive solutions he’s come up with.”

A culture of invention and problem-solving spreads throughout the company, with Hall expecting his 450 employees to exercise the same initiative in pushing projects forward that has guided him through his career.

“We’re all of one mind here,” Hall said in an interview in his office just across the hall from one where son Bret, now president of the company, directs day-to-day operations. “I love seeing my employees doing things that are above and beyond, and they always do. It’s a corporate family. When we make decisions here, we make them only after consulting with members of the family.”