Building trust: Lotvedt Construction has been there for Rugby’s growth

Jill Schramm/MDN Neil and Mary Jean Lotvedt stand next to a model house, built by Neil to the specifications of a house he helped design for a client.

RUGBY – Lotvedt Construction built numerous structures during its nearly 70 years of business in the Rugby area, but it also built a great deal of trust.

Neil and Mary Jean Lotvedt continue in the business started by Neil’s father around 1949. Much of the construction around the Rugby area has the Lotvedt stamp on it, although the company these days has transitioned from construction to project design and sales of building supplies.

“It’s my way to slow down,” said Neil Lotvedt, who no longer has a roster of construction employees as he once did. Many of the trades people in the area had received their start and training at Lotvedt Construction.

Mary Jean Lotvedt took a role in the business beginning in about 1986, assisting with the lumberyard that her father-in-law started.

“All she said is, ‘I’m not selling paint,'” Lotvedt joked. “And we never did sell paint.”

In the company’s early days, barn raising was a big part of the construction business. Barn raising became a lost art when pole barns became popular, he said.

Lotvedt was in sixth grade when his father gave him his first job helping out in the business. Graduating in 1972, Lotvedt went off to college to earn an associate’s degree in business. His father obtained the job of building Merchants Bank so Lotvedt took a break after two years of college to help with that project. He ended up staying to partner with his father.

“I liked commercial. He liked residential. It worked good,” Lotvedt said.

The company’s emphasis was on taking care of the Rugby area. Lotvedt Construction built an addition on the Heart of America Medical Center in Rugby in 1991. The company built Rugby’s Heart of America Correctional Center, finishing two months ahead of schedule without a change order. Lotvedt considers the hospital and the jail, which opened in 2006, to be among highlights of his career.

The company also built Pamida, Shopko, a hockey building, expansions at Rugby Manufacturing and The Hub supper club, among its many projects. Lotvedt designed and built Twin Oaks at Lake Metigoshe and did work for N.D. Telephone in Devils Lake and the Maddock Technology Center.

“I had the bonding capacity but never really wanted to use it. I negotiated more jobs than I ever bid,” Lotvedt said. His company established a strong reputation, including with bonding companies that set his bond limits based on wherever he was comfortable.

“It’s a pretty good feeling for a little town contractor,” Lotvedt said of that kind of respect.

He had never done a job in Minot until he worked with Mandaree Enterprises on a fairly recent project to remodel the POEM gallery and retail building in downtown Minot.

When he was starting out in the business, he said, he used to worry about having enough work to do in the small town. But his father’s often told him, “Don’t worry about what you can’t control,” and Lotvedt said that was good advice.

“Since 1961, the year of the drought, we have never had to worry about work,” Lotvedt said, acknowledging the strong impact the farm economy has had on his business.

Lotvedt didn’t always take his father’s advice, though. In 2010, he was elected to the Rugby City Council, ignoring his father’s admonition to avoid controversial public offices. Lotvedt felt it his duty to give back to community. He also felt the council needed someone with construction experience. That experience turned out to be helpful when the city built a new fire hall.

His eight years on the council worked out well enough that now he is running for mayor.

Lotvedt also has been involved a various projects associated with the former ABC show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which ran from December 2003 until 2012.

Lotvedt was project manager on Extreme Makeover’s home reconstruction project in Minot in 2006. He recalls many of the construction materials were staged in Rugby as they sought to maintain the project’s secrecy until the show was ready to announce it. He also worked on makeovers in Moorhead, Minnesota, in Logan, Utah, and New Orleans. He recalled the New Orleans project drew builders from around the country, but it was the North Dakota subcontractors who shined on that project.

The television reality series featured a design crew who coordinated home improvements for a worthy family in need of hope. They also completed a project for a community cause dear to that family. Work was done within a week while the family was sent on vacation.

“Every hour is a day,” Lotvedt said of the construction, noting he once lost three days when he took a three-hour break. “It was tough.”

He became good at it, though.

“The first one was scary. The second one, nothing to it. You just work on top of each other. It was so much fun calling the building inspectors at 3 o’clock at night,” he said with a smile.

When it comes to a home base, though, Lotvedt considers Rugby to have been a great place to do business. The community’s economy has been solid enough to provide the work and it’s supported Lotvedt’s philosophy that “if you treat them right, they will treat you right.”

Then there’s the people. From accountants and architects to materials suppliers and fellow contractors, Lotvedt said he’s had great support and learned much from those relationships.

“It just goes back to the people you know,” he said. “I had some really good people that I knew.”