Southwest Spotlight: Constructive homecoming: Boom helps Dickinson native return home, coordinate major projects
At just 29 years old, Dickinson native Marc Mellmer has found himself at the forefront of western North Dakota’s construction boom.
As an operations coordinator for JE Dunn Construction, Mellmer is responsible for building the new St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dickinson and numerous other infrastructure projects. All told, Mellmer estimates he and his management team will oversee about $250 million in vertical construction in western North Dakota over the next three years.
“My goal is not to leave,” Mellmer said with a smile. “I don’t plan on moving JE Dunn out of here ever — if I had it my way.”
Mellmer is best remembered by many in southwest North Dakota three-time state champion wrestling champion for the Dickinson Midgets.
His accomplishments on the mat earned him a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he graduated with degrees in construction management and business.
A neck injury derailed Mellmer’s wrestling career in 2006 but allowed him to accept an internship opportunity as an estimator with JE Dunn, which builds everything from football stadiums to senior housing complexes.
The road home
Mellmer said he always wanted to come home to Dickinson but admitted he doubted it would ever happen as long as he stayed with JE Dunn.
“Working for such a large company, I thought there would never be an opportunity to do it,” Mellmer said. “It takes a certain-sized job to make this happen.”
But about four years ago, oil production in North Dakota surged and created a building boom unlike any seen in the state’s history. Soon, major construction and infrastructure projects sprang up throughout western North Dakota and JE Dunn — like so many others — stepped in to get their piece of the action.
Mellmer spent three years in Fargo working on projects at the Microsoft campus and the Sanford Health complex in Detroit Lakes, Minn., before returning to western North Dakota to serve as a project manager on the birthing center addition to Mercy Medical Center in Williston.
Before completing the hospital addition, Mellmer helped JE Dunn win the bid to build the Williston Area Recreation Center — a $70 million project.
Two months later, the company was awarded the St. Joseph’s Hospital job in Dickinson and Mellmer was able to return home.
Mellmer said he is proud to be coordinating a project he believes will be a Dickinson landmark for generations.
“I was born in St. Joe’s hospital and so was all of my family, and a majority of relatives on both my mom and dad’s side,” he said. “So for me to come back and build the replacement hospital for the only one in town, that’s huge.”
Dennis Cannon, St. Joseph’s Hospital vice president of mission and support services, said it has been a treat to work with Mellmer.
“He’s coming to us and saying, ‘What would you like to know? Why don’t you come out and visit the site,’ instead of trying to keep us off the site,” Cannon said.
Keeping it local
Cannon remembers Mellmer doing a lot of the talking during JE Dunn’s initial presentation to the hospital and said he was instrumental in the company being awarded the hospital project. Mellmer’s willingness to subcontract work to local construction and building companies instead of bringing in JE Dunn’s workers from other states persuaded hospital officials, Cannon said.
“One of his statements was, ‘We will do as much as we can to include the local contractors as best we can,’” Cannon said. “To this day, I think they’ve done very well in sticking by that.”
Mellmer said his job is made easier by working with local subcontractors he trusts. Almost a dozen local companies have worked on the hospital project.
“If I was going to come back and manage the job, I’m going to use all of them,” he said. “That was really important to me, to utilize all the local guys that I’ve known since I was a little kid. … It makes my world easy to build around here when it should be hard.”
Mellmer said JE Dunn will have about 15 managers in Dickinson by next summer and it already uses some of its own general carpenters and laborers. It plans to build offices in Dickinson and Bismarck after opening its first North Dakota office in Williston earlier this year.
The company recently won the bid to build the new Dickinson Public Safety Center police and fire department, and is working on projects for a Dickinson engineering company and a convenience store that is going up in north Dickinson. Mellmer said a $2 million facility to enhance classrooms and community space at Home on the Range near Sentinel Butte is his “baby.”
“That’s a really cool project,” he said with a smile. “Those guys are fun to work with out there. That’s kind of one of my little pet projects because I’ve known those guys forever.”
Mellmer said JE Dunn has construction projects spread out over at least three years and more at the bidding stages.
With no sign of construction in western North Dakota slowing down, it appears — just as he hoped — that Mellmer could be sticking around his hometown for a while.
“They (JE Dunn) are wide open and gave me the opportunity to go create something within the organization that I can call mine,” he said. “This is where I wanted to come to. The boom has just given me the opportunity, with all these building projects, to do this.”