Jeff Porter, superintendent of the church’s $8 million renovation project, is on the job site an hour before the first worker shows up at 7 a.m., going over the day’s work in the pre-dawn darkness.
His office is carved into a nook in Blaisdell. Instead of a construction trailer removed from the racket of progress, the din happens all around him, including overhead, every day. Until the project is enclosed, there is no heat in the winter nor air-conditioning in the summer.
“This office is perfectly fine,” he says, gesturing with a nod to makeshift countertops and plan tables that encircle a minimalist meeting space. There also are no chairs.
“It’s big enough that we can get all the foremen in, eight or nine guys, for meetings every other week,” he says.
The job site, with two active construction projects, is so tight, the truth is, there was not room for a second construction trailer. Some superintendents would have been out of sorts.
Not Porter, 33, one of the youngest supers in the Linkous Construction stable. The day he walked on his first Linkous job, President Rusty Linkous made a note.
“I said, ‘We need to hire him fulltime.’”
That was ten years ago. Porter has spent the last seven in management.
“He quickly rose through the ranks,” Linkous said.
“His ability to foresee potential problems is notable. He brings up things that no one else has thought of yet. When you have Jeff Porter on a job, he owns it. It’s his, and he is not going to let it fail.”
Porter, who earned a business management degree from Delta State University, started in residential construction in Collierville. He liked it fine until he interned one summer for Linkous and saw the kind of skill big, commercial jobs require.
The stakes are also commensurately higher. Porter, who commutes from Byhalia, Mississippi, is running a construction schedule in the tightest building market of his career. Crews that used to be available in a week now arrive in three weeks.
“The industry, not only here in Memphis but as far as I know, all over the country, is slammed. It’s taking a lot longer to get materials for jobs and men out here to work. That’s where the planning comes in,” Porter says with a wry smile.
The superintendent is the liaison with all the people involved on the site - the subcontractors, the owner, the architects and other Linkous staff.
Last month, about 30 workers were on the job, including masons, framers, mechanical experts, pipefitters, concrete guys, plumbers and electricians. The superintendent has to have a working knowledge of each to manage the whole job.
“It takes being around it and seeing it,” Porter says quietly. “And making mistakes and learning from them, to teach others correctly on the job."
It’s his job to schedule the subcontractors, purchase materials and work through the foremen on the site so the job gets done on time and on budget.
“There are always unknowns you are going to run into, structural elements that weren’t as planned that may mean you have to go back to the designers and relook at everything on it,” Porter says.
“I make some suggestions about the most cost-effective and constructible way to fix it,” Porter says. “On structural issues, the engineers decide. I don’t design buildings, I put them together.”
Every job, big and small, has a personality. The church’s job is on a postage-size piece of ground with buildings built more than a half-century ago. It’s smack in the middle of an active-school campus with twice-a-day carpool traffic.
“The Holy Communion job is difficult,” Linkous said. “The congregation is still worshiping around a major renovation. And it’s not a greenfield. It is a completely different game if you’re building from scratch on an empty lot.”
Porter had just finished a similar job at University Methodist in Oxford, Mississippi, on a building dating to the 1800s, when Linkous assigned him the Holy Communion job.
“I told him his office was going to be in the church and not in a trailer. He was fine with that. Jeff is so flexible, if I told him, ‘The office needs to be the cab of your pickup,’ he’d say, ‘Ok, we’ll make that work.’
“He handles challenges because he takes it so seriously. We as a company rely so much on our relationships in our business. He is exactly what we strive to have in our all team members,” Linkous said.
“I would put him on any job we had and be comfortable.”
Porter leaves home around 5:30 a.m. with a cup of coffee for the road and the lunch his wife made him. Their three children, 4, 3 and 2, won’t see him for 10-12 hours and much longer some days.
“The biggest thing I enjoy is that you have a task or a mission,” he said. “You get a plan, then you organize the men and to work. Seeing the task get accomplished is very rewarding.”