Fourth-generation family business known for signature buildings
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. – Jenkins-Essex Construction, based in Elizabethtown, marked 110 years in business as well as the 100th anniversary of its incorporation in 2014.
One of oldest companies in the Elizabethtown area, Jenkins-Essex has left its mark throughout the region, having constructed many high profile, landmark buildings and a total of more than 35 million square feet of building space.
But Jenkins-Essex also stands out as a fourth-generation family owned and managed business.
About one-third of family-owned businesses enter the second-generation; 12 percent make it the third generation; and just 3 percent survive into the fourth generation, according to Family Business Institute.
“Our longevity speaks to our capabilities. From the very beginning, integrity, knowledge and hard work have driven our success,” said Greg Jenkins, current president of Jenkins Essex. “We’ve been fortunate because this region has presented opportunities, and we’ve been able to build a reputation for delivering the quality product we promise.”
In 1904, Neff Jenkins and William Essex founded the company as a lumber mill, located in downtown Elizabethtown, and they quickly branched out, not only opening a full building supply store but also building homes.
Neff Jenkins had an entrepreneurial spirit, said Bert Jenkins, of the third generation and now retired. The family even owned a furniture store at one time as well as the local Dodge franchise. William Essex, whose heirs later sold their interests to the Jenkins family, was known as a craftsman and expert cabinetmaker.
Roy Keith Sr., of Elizabethtown, recalled his father’s friendship with Neff Jenkins.
“I do remember Mr. Jenkins being a very energetic man,” Keith said, noting that Neff Jenkins had lost his left arm as a young man. “My dad said, ‘He proves anybody can do anything because he can tie his shoes with one hand,’ and that always stuck with me.”
Keith’s family business, Keith Monument – one of few local existing businesses known to be operating at the Jenkins-Essex genesis – bought cement and gravel from the supply store. Keith’s father also relied on the store because he was a homebuilder.
“He never bought a nail from anyone but Jenkins-Essex,” Keith recalled.
It was in the 1960s that the construction company started expanding in commercial and industrial building. Since then, Jenkins-Essex has managed the construction of many of the area’s signature buildings. In Hardin County, those include St. James Catholic Church, Pritchard Community Center, Hardin County Justice Center, Akebono Brake North American Headquarters, Elizabethtown Sports Park and many others.
In fact, it likely would be difficult to find a Hardin County resident who has not crossed the threshold of a Jenkins-Essex building.
“When a project comes along and you know it is special, you have a great desire to be a part of it,” Bert Jenkins said.
In the early 1990s, the company’s construction and supply divisions began operating as two separate entities. Bert Jenkins ran the construction company. His brother, Ray Jenkins, managed the supply company. Jenkins-Essex Supply has since closed, but the construction business remains strong.
“It is very unusual. There has to be an adaptation all along the line,” Bert Jenkins said of the company’s endurance.
As for being a rare fourth-generation family business, the circumstances have always been right. While Bert Jenkins always knew he would follow his father, Jay Jenkins, into the family business, Greg Jenkins spent years in the banking industry. He came to the family business in part because he wanted to settle in Elizabethtown. “The family business is a path one chooses,” Greg Jenkins said, “and it’s yet to be seen if anyone in the next generation will choose it.”
Today, Jenkins-Essex is known for its work across the Central Kentucky region, and in Hardin County, its current projects include the new Swope Toyota dealership, the 60,000 square foot Hardin County government building and a 19,000 square foot building that will house the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail and the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Industrial Foundation.