[caption id="attachment_234125" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Lorri Grayson, founder and partner of GGA Construction. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GGA CONSTRUCTION[/caption]
REHOBOTH BEACH — Lorri Grayson has long gotten used to being the only woman on a construction site. And about three days a week, she’s visiting one of the many projects that GGA Construction has in the works throughout the state.“It’s a lot better than it used to be, and I think you’re seeing more women in engineering, but for whatever reason, the numbers of women aren’t there in construction. And we have to change that perception,” Grayson said.She would know. Grayson has been in construction for decades and her interest was first sparked by engineering. She grew up surrounded by engineers in her family, including her father, brother and cousins. After moving to the Brandywine Valley area when she was 5, Grayson cultivated that interest in mechanical engineering throughout her childhood.In fact, when Grayson was at Talley Middle School, she wanted to take mechanical drawing instead of home economics with the other girls. When the administrators refused, her mother took it to the principal and eventually the superintendent. The Graysons won that battle, and Lorri Grayson became the first woman to take mechanical drawing in the Brandywine School District.“That’s where I discovered I was really good at this, and I loved to build things,” she said. “That was probably life-changing for me. I don’t know what I would have done if my Mom had not given me the opportunity to learn what my gift is.”It wasn’t the last time Grayson had to break barriers. When she studied civil engineering at Virginia Tech, she was one of four women in the department in the early 1980s. At her internship at DuPont’s general services, where she worked on design and estimation on new projects, she was the only woman in a department of 80 men.None of that deterred her, because she was doing what she loved.“I felt I was in the right spot, because it felt like something I always wanted to do. So I persevered. But it was kind of strange because I’ve never had a peer,” she said.Grayson’s first real break came when the Commonwealth Group, a Wilmington real estate development firm, hired her as a project manager in the construction department. That’s where she was able to see the designs come to life in what she joked was “instant gratification.” Today, she can drive by any of the buildings she worked on all those years ago and remember the challenges and the pride behind it.“It’s like any trade. When you have something to show somebody, something tangible, it’s pretty incredible. Like creating or art, I imagine,” she said.Eventually, she struck out on her own and started an interior renovation company, and hired three women in the company. That was a short-lived dream because Grayson said she was more focused on keeping the business going rather than listening to the needs of her staff.After taking some time to mull it over, her husband Dave Grayson offered to start a company together. He was then a partner in a construction firm.“I thought it was the best idea or the dumbest idea we had,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a big risk. Your marriage could be stronger or could end. But we both had our customers, and he focused on the outside and I did interiors. I never thought we’d be where we are today.”That was in 2004. Today, GGA Construction estimates it does more than $100 million in projects per year, with a focus in niche markets like student housing at University of Delaware with Lang Development or skilled nursing facilities with ONIX Group. Focusing on student housing and forming a partnership with ONIX helped GGA Construction thrive in the early years and survive the 2008 recession.“I have to hand it to my husband, because I didn’t want to do it. But because I had a really big failure, I didn’t have other options,” Grayson said. “And over time, I really learned it’s OK to fail if you learn from it.”Looking back on her career, she found that having an analytical mind has helped prepare. When getting a seat at the table, being prepared and knowledgeable on the material can help pave the way to success. Listening to your colleagues and being transparent also helped her go far, as well as confidence.When she’s not in the office, she and her husband can be found walking to catch up on the day’s events as well as spending time with their grandchildren. The Graysons built their beach home in Rehoboth Beach and moved there full-time a few years ago, paving the way for more Sussex County offices. The firm acquired Broadpoint Construction to strengthen its foothold in the community.Grayson also believes strongly in mentoring the next generation in construction, noting that the average construction worker or employee is 55 years old. She’s working on turning over operations at GGA Construction so she can help develop leaders, including young women. This year, she was also named the Mid-Atlantic region vice chair of Associated Builders and Contractors.“My ultimate goal is to be chairman, and if I achieve that, I’ll feel like I’ve achieved everything,” she said.
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