‘Bold’ move by Weitz to kill rumor of departure

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Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013 12:00 am

Chris Harrison figures the buzz started with a change in leadership — he came from Des Moines to replace the former Nebraska head of the Weitz Co.

Then the firm left its seven-year home at 107th and Pacific Streets in Omaha, and down came the Weitz Plaza sign.

The next thing Harrison knew, he was trying to stomp out a rumor that the construction company with a 20-plus-year presence in the local market was leaving Nebraska. It grew to the point he felt compelled to send an email blast to more than 500 people in the construction and real estate industry denouncing the story as a rumor that was “absolutely not true.”

This week, he said, a similar alert was sent out through the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce to about 1,000 others.

“Weitz is committed to our customers and this market,” Harrison said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Harrison, Weitz’s Nebraska office leader, admits that the approach was somewhat unorthodox and that he questioned whether it would be effective.

But he thought the company was missing out on potential business and decided: “We need to kill this rumor. Let’s do something bold and different.”

So far, Harrison said, he has gotten positive feedback, and the company plans follow-up activities to affirm its presence.

In the email blast, Harrison told recipients that they’ll receive future email to let them know what the company is doing to “wow” customers. He plans to tout efforts in ads as well.

On Feb. 28, Weitz plans an open house at its new La Vista headquarters. Harrison said Weitz moved to the 8715 S. 121st St. site, south of Cabela’s, last summer because he said it made more sense to be based in a building it already owned, rather than continue to pay rent at the old Weitz Plaza. He said many probably thought Weitz owned that facility since it carried its name, but Weitz had a lease that was expiring.

The current 12,000-square-foot Weitz headquarters previously served as a Weitz training and meeting center, Harrison said. Half now is office space, he said, adding that the renovation allowed for a more open and collaborative working environment.

Additionally, Harrison said, the company — known for projects such as Werner Park, Gallup University and Shadow Lake Towne Center — is hiring again.

Among projects that Weitz has under way: renovation of College of St. Mary’s Walsh Hall; renovation at Bellevue’s Hillcrest Health Services; an addition to Papillion’s Immanuel Communities Trinity Village Senior Housing; new four-story Gateway Senior Housing in Lincoln; and an addition at Countryside Homes Nursing in Madison, Neb.

Last year, the company’s Nebraska construction jobs totaled about $40 million, said Harrison, and this year he anticipates about $50 million.

Weitz, which has about 50 professionals on its Nebraska construction team, had laid off some workers upon completion of the huge Midtown Crossing project, Harrison said. That downsizing came later than most other construction companies that reacted to the national housing and economic downturn, he said, which might have fueled the rumor.

“We’re in the add mode now, which is really nice,” Harrison said.

Weitz recently hired two professionals. Harrison, who moved his family to the Omaha area in August, said he expects to hire six more.

“I came here to make a difference,” he said. “Nebraska is where Weitz and I are investing in the future.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, cindy.gonzalez@owh.com

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