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April 24, 2014

Survey: J.M. Riley Co.

Specialty: Retail and office construction, including tenant improvements, additions and new construction

Management: Jim Riley, president

Founded: 2012

Headquarters: Bellevue

2013 revenues: $3.5 million

Projected 2014 revenues: $10 million

Current projects: Nissan dealership renovation, Bellevue; Evergreen Building renovation, Kirkland

Being a small-business owner agrees with Jim Riley.

After working as a project manager for different general contractors in the Seattle area more than two decades, Riley decided to strike out on his own in 2012.

“Running my own business appealed to me for quite some time,” he said.

Riley waited out the recession, then jumped in when market conditions started to perk up.

“The first four months of business were slower than I hoped for,” he admitted, “but from six months in until now, there’s been a tremendous explosion of work opportunities.”

Riley and his four-person staff have enjoyed a steady flow of office and retail work, taking on projects ranging from $100,000 to $5 million. The largest projects he’s worked on so far include renovations of a Nissan dealership in Bellevue and a 40,000-square-foot office building in Kirkland.

Other potential market areas for the company include medical and biotech projects, where Riley has past experience.

The biggest challenge so far, he said, has involved facing unfamiliar hurdles such as licensing, bonding, insurance and setting up legal incorporation.

Riley has built up a client case by drawing on contacts he’s made over the course of his career.

“Seventy-five percent of the projects I’ve done are for customers I’ve worked for in past lives,” he said.

At his last position as a senior project manager at Sierra Construction in Woodinville, Riley said he ran multiple projects at a time, usually $10 million-plus primary jobs and a variety of smaller jobs.

With J.M. Riley Co., he said he prefers to stay small. He plans to limit staff size to 10, and shoot for $15 million to $25 million in annual revenue.

“I don’t have any desire to grow into a big business,” he said.

Riley got his start at SDL McCarthy after graduating with a civil engineering degree from the University of Washington. The ability to work on big projects was a lure for working for a large general contractor (St. Louis-based McCarthy left town in 2001).

“But what you realize after you’ve done a few of those larger projects is that you just focus on a piece of it rather than the whole thing,” Riley said.

“It seemed like a natural progression going from larger to smaller companies,” he said. At a smaller firm “you do certainly have your hands in more components (of the projects) and better exposure to how the business is managed.”

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