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WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Laying The Groundwork

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Mar 13, 2020
(Photo by Michael Cline Spencer)
In his 28 years in business, Ken Dull’s philosophy has been about building the right relationships.
 
When McKinley “Ken” Dull moved to the Wilmington area in the late 1980s, he saw the potential for Wilmington to grow its business community.
 
“I always believed Wilmington was going to have its day in the sun,” Dull said. “It was the only place in North Carolina that you could have a business career and live at the beach at the same time, which is still true.”
 
Dull, owner and president of McKinley Building Corp., graduated from N.C. State University with an engineering degree and started his career with a general contractor in the Winston-Salem area.
 
He later followed a job to Wilmington to join a commercial builder. Dull was one of the lucky ones as jobs in the area at the time were hard to find.
 
“It was a great opportunity to be here at a time when things were just starting to get going,” Dull said. “For the first month I was here, people would ask me how I got my job. They would ask, ‘Did somebody retire, or did they pass away?’ Because otherwise there were no new jobs in Wilmington. And that’s kind of where we were in 1987.”
 
Dull decided to branch out, however, with his own general contracting firm and started McKinley Building Corp. in 1992.
 
Dull began his firm through a relationship with Bobby Harrelson, a prominent Wilmington-area developer.
 
“Bobby helped me get started,” Dull said. “He told me, ‘Go start your business and come back and talk to me.’ So, I did. And he was kind enough that he had some work to give to me.”
 
Dull’s first project in town was a 10,000-square-foot store at 801 S. College Road.
 
The company has since developed a foothold in the vibrant business economy Dull now sees in Wilmington. And what started as a one-person firm, today has more than 70 employees.
 
McKinley Building has earned a reputation as one of the leading locally-owned commercial contracting firms in the Port City, with more than 300 projects in its portfolio from Class A offices to multifamily developments.
 
“I believe that we are at the right size for a place like Wilmington,” Dull said. “And I also believe and know that the more spread out you get, the harder it is to maintain the consistency and quality that you have agreed to provide.”
 
McKinley Building is a boutique commercial contracting firm that has built some high-profile projects in the area.
 
This summer, McKinley Building is expected to wrap up construction on Bradley Creek Station, an 80,000-square-foot office and retail building at 5815 Oleander Drive under development by Steve Anderson, of SAMM Properties Inc.
 
“Bradley Creek is probably the largest single Class A office building project in Wilmington in 15 years. And I have been told that the leasing has gone very well for Steve Anderson,” Dull said.
 
Anderson also enlisted McKinley Building for more than 200,000 square feet of space in six buildings that make up the Offices at Mayfaire.
 
McKinley Building started this year on The Harrelson Center’s next phase of renovations, a project slated to be done later this spring, Dull said. The firm several years ago made renovations to the center, a nonprofit that supports and houses other nonprofits.
 
Some of McKinley Building’s recently completed work includes Sawmill Point, a downtown Wilmington waterfront apartment community, which sold last year for $65 million. The company also built an $18 million five-story parking deck and pedestrian bridge at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Dull said the company has been hired to construct a second parking deck and pedestrian bridge for the hospital.
 
For McKinley Building, however, it has been more about building personal relationships over its 28 years in business.
 
“We work for people, not projects,” Dull said. “And that’s how we get involved in the projects that we end up doing.”
 
McKinley Building, since the beginning, has maintained its core values of integrity, teamwork, faith, commitment, efficiency, compassion and service to others, Dull said. He also carries on the tradition of his grandfather, who was a builder in the Winston-Salem area in the early 1900s.
 
“We have the skill sets and business capabilities to compete with any large company from Wilmington or from out of Wilmington,” Dull said. “The difference is that we don’t act like a big corporation when it gets to the relationship.”
 
Dull describes taking on a build a lot like a marriage with the client. And McKinley Building, while it does a lot of its projects within a two-hour radius of Wilmington, will follow a good client “wherever they ask us to go,” he said.
 
It’s that company philosophy and commitment to both its clients and the Wilmington community that Dull attributes as the reason for the firm’s success.
 
The company has also been developing relationships with other firms.
 
“What we have done, rather than trying to grow into other markets and spreading ourselves thin and risking our reputation, we have developed strategic relationships with other general contractors that believe in the same core values that we do,” Dull said.
 
One such relationship, for example, helped with the Sawmill Point work, in which the company partnered with a Durham-based builder on the project. With the right strategic partners, Dull said, McKinley Building can take on pretty much anything.
 
“We’ve been very conservative in our growth over the past 28 years. As the old saying goes, ‘It’s about quality, not quantity,’” he said. “We never aspired to be the biggest commercial contractor in Wilmington. We just only wanted to find the right people to work for and be the best general contractor in Wilmington.”
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