Under 40: Skandia Truss

Gary Niemela used to wish that there were two of him so he could simultaneously be on the jobsite while managing the business end of his company, Skandia Truss, in Skandia, Mich.
However, his wish didn’t quite turn out as planned. Instead of getting one extra right hand, Niemela got four: his sons Josh (age 24) and Luke (21) plus Chris Maksim (26) and Larry Sharp (26). If Gary Niemela is the heart of Skandia Truss, these four young men have become its soul.
After graduating from Michigan State University in 1975 with a degree in building construction, Gary Niemela’s work focused on wood frame structures. Even as little boys, his two sons couldn’t wait for the opportunity to head to the construction site with their dad. Each boy got his first work experience when he was approximately 10 years old.RB 40.jpg
“We used to pound nails,” says Luke Niemela. “I remember my dad was building a house down the road from our house, and Josh and I helped build two of the decks.”
In 1996, Gary Niemela established Skandia Truss, and his sons continued to help out when they weren’t in school. The construction business came naturally to both young men, and they soon became skilled in all aspects of the trade. When high school graduation came, neither Luke nor Josh considered any other options — they went to work full time with their father.
Gary Niemela knows how lucky he is to have sons who are hard working and excellent ambassadors for Skandia Truss. His luck doubled with the hiring of Maksim and Sharp.
During his senior year, Maksim met Gary Niemela, who offered the then 17-year-old a job at Skandia Truss.
“I graduated from high school on a Saturday, and I started work on Monday,” Maksim says. In school, he had studied to be a mechanic, so he had to learn the construction business on the job. Today, Maksim is a jack-of-all-trades, the guy who is called when something needs fixing or a problem needs to be solved. “No day is ever the same,” he says, “and I like that.”
After a few years of working with Skandia Truss, Maksim encouraged his buddy Sharp to apply for a job with the company. Sharp was a mechanic and disillusioned with his job. He was ready for a change. Now, he says, he can’t see himself working in any other job or with any other company.
While Gary Niemela runs the office and takes care of the business aspects of the company, Josh and Luke Niemela, Maksim, and Sharp handle most of the hands-on work. They all work in supervisory positions, but they also like getting their hands dirty on whatever building project they are called on to do.
The main business focus of Skandia Truss is building high-quality trusses with an emphasis on practical snow load design. Based in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, structures must be constructed to withstand harsh winters. As the business continues to grow, it is not uncommon to have a couple dozen truss projects in the works.
However, like many construction businesses, work does slow down in the winter months, giving the Niemela brothers, Sharp, and Maksim the chance to stretch their talents with other projects, most of them on the business property. This past winter, for example, they expanded the office building, adding a second floor.
While many business owners might be reluctant to give so much responsibility to such young employees, Gary Niemela completely trusts these young men and respects the work that they do.
“They are eager to learn, hard working, loyal, and industrious,” he says. “They sell for us naturally, they have great leadership skills, and I am complimented constantly on the quality and attitude portrayed by our people.”
Another reason the four men have taken natural leadership roles within the company is due to Skandia Truss’s overall work force.
“Our summer help is pretty young, ranging from 18-19 years old to 28-29 years old,” says Josh Niemela. “Everybody around is pretty young.”
“We have a good team and good communication,” says Sharp. “It makes it easy to come to work every day.”
Maksim admits that, during his early years with Skandia Truss, some customers felt uncomfortable dealing with someone so young. But, he says, he earned their respect by knowing his business. “Looking older might help, too,” he says with a laugh.
All four men agree that working with their hands and the opportunity to do different things each day are the favorite parts of their job. Luke Niemela adds, “It is nice seeing something form before your eyes.”
And what frustrates them about the industry?
“Seeing things that aren’t up to par with our standards,” says Josh Niemela.
Maksim agrees. “There isn’t enough emphasis on quality. People look at two products and the prices. People look first at the price rather than looking at the quality of the work.” Everyone involved with Skandia Truss is proud of the quality of their products, making every effort to go above and beyond the minimum requirements set by the Michigan state codes.
Josh Niemela, Luke Niemela, Chris Maksim, and Larry Sharp believe the future of Skandia Truss and the rural building industry is bright, and all four of them intend on sticking around with the company for a long time.
“I started working in the building business in 1975,” says Gary Niemela. “I have seen change in the past 30 years. New materials, different technology, higher costs for everything associated with building, more risk, etc. One constant has been the value of good people. I think we will see a shortage of skilled tradespeople who can use their hands.
“I can buy machinery and equipment,” he continues. “You can’t buy people, and it’s difficult at best to teach commitment and attitude. These four young men are my most valuable asset. We can weather anything that happens with our leadership. The future looks very bright.”

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