Join us in supporting Austin Hatcher Foundation

EMJ Corporation is proud to support the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer this holiday season with Hatch’s Giving Trees in our EMJ Chattanooga and Signal Energy offices.

EMJ employees and visitors to our offices this December will be able to choose an ornament from our Christmas trees and fulfill the donation request listed on the ornament. Each ornament represents a specific need for Austin Hatcher families, ranging from baby wipes and snacks to gift cards and monetary donations.

We also encourage our clients, friends and colleagues outside of our offices to consider joining us in this worthy cause by purchasing items on Austin Hatcher’s Amazon Wish List.

Established in 2006 by Amy Jo and Jim Osborn in memory of their son, the Austin Hatcher Foundation’s mission is to erase the effects of childhood cancer and optimize each child and family member’s quality of life through essential specialized interventions.

In the 1960s, the five-year survival rate for the most common childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), was 4%. Today, it is approaching 90%. Though this is promising for families affected by this devastating disease, patients, parents and siblings are often unprepared for the psychological and emotional effects of cancer survival.

40% of childhood cancer survivors report neuropsychological late effects which makes survivors 10.5 times more likely to have severe cognitive dysfunction than their peers.

The Austin Hatcher Foundation provides services to cancer patients and their families to help prevent and minimize these effects through Industrial Arts, Diversionary Therapy, Psycho-Oncology, and Healthy Lifestyle Education.

The Foundation serves families across the country and is the official charity of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA).

Learn more about Austin Hatcher Foundation’s services in the video below and visit

Thank you for joining EMJ to support this deserving organization!


Let’s create a supply chain of gratitude

“If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” —John Wooden

A recent story on LinkedIn talks about a math teacher who wrote the following on her chalkboard:

When she turned to her class, the kids were snickering. She asked, “What’s so funny?” The students quickly noted that her first math fact was incorrect.

The teacher responded, “Sure, but I got 9 out of 10 problems right.” Her lesson that day was about far more than math. It was a lesson to prepare her students for the world, and that one mistake can outshine 9 successes.

Her message wasn’t that they should work harder and never make a mistake. It was to never let the negative get in the way of the positive and to never get discouraged—to have grit.

So how do we change our perspective and put more emphasis on the positive? One way is to give thanks.

Expressing gratitude for a colleague’s contribution, even the small things, is a great way to emphasize good work and harness strengths.

Studies show that simple acts of gratitude encourage feelings of increased well-being and reduced depression. Affirmations also build confidence and trust and are proven to increase performance and job satisfaction and improve culture as employees pay their gratitude forward.

It’s a good time of year to reflect on all that we are thankful for, but let’s not stop there. Let’s intentionally express our appreciation for those that positively impact our life and work each day.

In his book Thanks a Thousand, author A.J. Jacobs chronicles his effort to thank every single person who made his morning cup of coffee possible, which turns out to be hundreds of people around the world including farmers, chemists, presidents and artists.

Much like the folks behind Jacobs’ cup of coffee, sometimes in a business setting, the steady, consistent performers can get overlooked, simply because they are getting their work done. Stop and consider your supply chain of positive, and express thanks day in and day out for the large and small contributions.

As Coach Wooden said, let’s magnify our blessings today and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Recommended Reading:

This is the Most Underrated Way to Be a Better Leader

The Importance of Saying Thank You in Business and Beyond

Thanks A Thousand by A.J. Jacobs

Thank you to our EMJ military veterans

Today, EMJ honors U.S. military veterans across the nation. Thank you for your incredible service and sacrifice for our country.

We are especially proud of the 25 active and retired members of the military employed by the EMJ family of companies. Your service to our country exemplifies our EMJ values to be selfless,  trustworthy and gritty, and we are honored to have you on our team.

In recognition of Veterans Day,  we asked a few of our extraordinary veterans what their service taught them and how it applies to their work at EMJ.


Rashard Minnis served the Marine Corps as Infantry Unit Leader, Drill Instructor, and Small Craft Commander for 15 years prior to attending The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he is pursuing a second degree and serving EMJ as a co-op.

“The experience and values I learned while serving in the Marine Corps helped shape me and has a great impact on my daily work here at EMJ for several reasons: attention to detail, providing the best service you can to clients, knowing when and how to be a leader, and work ethic.”


Office Manager Kami Clark served the Air National Guard for six years prior to starting her career. It was during her service that Kami realized the power of grit and the ability to persevere through challenges.

“Outside of being a mother, to this day my proudest moment was the day I graduated from Basic Training. It was all about pushing myself beyond what I thought I was capable of accomplishing. I realized then, and it applies everyday at EMJ, that with the right kind of guidance, I am capable of anything I put my mind to doing.”


Superintendent Tom Smachetti (left) and his best friend during their retirement ceremony.

Superintendent Thomas Smachetti is a retired Navy Platoon Commander and Senior Enlisted for Delta Company. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

Tom says that his service taught him to never give up because “you can get it done no matter what,” and to embrace differences in the best interest of a team.

“No matter who I work with I learn to work with them and set aside differences just as we did during the time of war. We have a job to do and finish it in a timely manner. The Seabees motto is ‘CAN DO: The difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer.’ I am reminded every day of that phrase, and it pushes me to get it done.”


Robert Mazza, Project Engineer, currently serves as a platoon leader of a horizontal construction platoon in the Tennessee Army National Guard.  A member of the EMJ team since 2016, Robert says his military service has taught him the value of teamwork and the key role it plays in the success of an organization.

“Something that the military has really reinforced in me is the concept of working together as a team to achieve a common goal, placing the success of the team above the wants of the individual.”


These are just a few stories of the outstanding servicemen and women who make EMJ great.

On behalf of each and every employee within the family of companies, we thank every veteran who has served our nation. Please join us in celebrating their service.

EMJ Veterans:

Ray Alamo
Joe Bethel
Ken Boyd
Kami Clark
Terry Dill
Bob Elliott
Chris Fisher
Gary Gibson
Joe Guerrero
Ryan Jarvis
Craig Jordan
Bill Manuel
Robert Mazza
Rashard Minnis
Greg Pawson
Ed Pontis
Evan Rector
Jeremy Richards
Robbin Russell
Karl Schadlich
Thomas Smachetti
Brian Tiehen
Matt Uebler
Mike Williams


Are you an EMJ veteran and want to share your story? Let us know on Facebook, or email us at

High Point Shopping Center Opens in Dallas

Last week, the EMJ team and The Ainbinder Company celebrated the opening of Academy Sports + Outdoors and Five Below at the High Point Shopping Center in Dallas.

Spanning more than 14.5 acres, the High Point development includes 9 buildings, totaling 180,000 square feet. EMJ’s work included all site work and new construction, as well as adding a new traffic signal on Northwest Highway.

The opening of Academy and Five Below marks the second construction milestone on the project. Burlington opened in September, and Marshalls is expected to open next week.



Congratulations to the project team!

Bobby Bass, Project Manager
Keith Starkes, Preconstruction Manager
Chris Ross, Preconstruction Manager
Charles Grothe, Project Engineer
Mike Coyne, Lead Superintendent
Marcus McAdams, Superintendent

Related story:

CarMax in Corpus Christi Celebrates Grand Opening

EMJ’s fourth project to date for CarMax opened last week in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Located on five acres, construction of the 7,500-square-foot store included all site work and installing of a below grade 2,000-gallon fuel storage tank.

“The team’s hard work and client support was outstanding,” said George Heath, EMJ Vice President of Construction. “Their diligence led us to the recent award of two new stores in Denton and Lubbock.”

EMJ’s ongoing partnership with CarMax is what EMJ refers to as programmatic work—performing multiple projects for one client of similar scope and size. This type of relationship enables our team to develop a highly tailored, efficient construction process for the client that supports long-term consistency, accountability and trust.

Look for more updates on the team’s work with CarMax, and congrats to the Corpus Christi team on a job well done!

Jon Fair, Project Manager
Daniel Brantley, Superintendent
Conner Kamps, Preconstruction Manager
Will Morris, Project Engineer
Kathy Griffin, Accounting Manager
Suzanna Trent, Administrative Assistant

Visit for additional information about CarMax.

Related story:

CarMax in Norman Celebrates Grand Opening


Measure twice, cut once: Using drone data to calculate concrete volume

Earlier this year, EMJ completed an expansion at Ruby Falls, a tourist attraction in Lookout Mountain, Tenn., that boasts the nation’s largest public underground waterfall. Our team constructed a new lobby, retail space, pedestrian mall, and more next to the original, historic castle that sits more than 1,000 feet above the underground waterfall.

The expansion required removal of a significant amount of rock to create a pad for the new construction. Considering the site’s location on a mountainside above an underground cavern, the team carefully drilled out the rock section by section, rather than blasting. As documented in a recent Ground Up podcast, the rock removal process required precision planning, logistics, and execution by all project team members. It also required careful consideration for how to prepare the resulting site to endure the elements for many years to come.

Among those considerations was waterproofing and the best method to ensure the exposed rock could withstand the elements. Of particular concern was a void between the new building and the rock wall. This gap was created when the team carved out the rock to create the building pad. The design team presented two options for EMJ to consider: apply a vinyl-waterproofing product or fill the space between the building and the mountain with concrete.

But, here was the catch. While the team could estimate the cost of the vinyl waterproofing, it was impossible to measure the gap and estimate the cost of the concrete.

The team called on Caleb Wickersham, EMJ Virtual Construction Engineer and licensed drone pilot, who had already flown the site and created a 3D model of the mountainside using photogrammetry.

Caleb layered the architect’s building model next to his mountainside model. Using his previous calculations, he was able to determine the volume of the space between the building and the mountain, which provided the amount of concrete needed to solve the waterproofing issue.  From this, the team calculated the concrete cost, and in comparing it with the vinyl-waterproofing cost, the vinyl product was the more cost-effective and prudent option for Ruby Falls.

There is an old adage that applies to construction, “Measure twice and cut once.”  In a figurative sense that means to plan and prepare in a careful, thorough manner before taking action. Using construction technology, that is exactly what the Ruby Falls team did, helping make sure its recommendation to the client was accurate.

Check out this video of Caleb’s handywork.

Related story:

EMJ’s Chattanooga team wraps up Ruby Falls expansion


The Construction Industry Has a Communications Problem

Construction is complex business. It takes dozens, often hundreds, of people to build a commercial structure. That equals a lot of room for error.

According to a recent FMI survey of 600 construction leaders*, poor communication and poor project data account for 48 percent of all rework on U.S. construction projects, totaling $31.3 billion per year in avoidable construction costs.

Software platforms such as Procore, Cosential, and Viewpoint are helping the industry make strides in real-time information collection, knowledge management, and historical data capture, but poor communication presents an entirely different challenge, a human one.

Everyone in the industry comes from a different background and brings a unique perspective, training, experience, and style of delivering and receiving messages. Being mindful of that and more intentional when communicating can make a big impact.

Here are a few communication best practices that universally apply to all facets of life.

Focus on the one thing.

Consider the goal of your communication, whether it’s a meeting, a phone call, a presentation, or just an email. What is the one thing that you need the other party to know? Identify that and make that the focus of your message. Start with it, end with it, and follow up on it.

Cut to the chase.

Know your audience and consider what’s on their mind. Construction and development move fast. Be direct and clear in communicating your need, and the action required on the other person’s part. Also, consider what is the most efficient means of communication.  A quick, impromptu phone call might accomplish the same thing as a meeting.

Keep it simple.

It’s awesome that you know every term in the construction dictionary, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use them. Again, consider your audience. If you are speaking with engineers or technical trades, then use the most specific terms you know. If speaking to a more general audience, avoid technical terms, phrase your key message in a way that is more broadly understood.

Be specific.

Instead of telling your owner that you will need to cut off power to a portion of the site sometime in October, tell them you will be cutting power off to buildings A, B and C on October 8th. This applies to communicating with colleagues as well. Don’t ask them to “take care of the paperwork.” This assumes they share your sense of urgency. Instead say, “please have the paperwork completed and on my desk by 5 p.m.” This is good management 101.

Be inclusive.

Anyone with a stake in the project should have a seat at the table. Just because the individual seated across the conference room from you doesn’t speak up during the project meeting, doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a valuable role in the outcome of your project. Engage everyone because more input provides more knowledge, and more knowledge builds better projects.

Follow up.

Don’t assume your message was heard and understood as you intended. At the end of a meeting or after you have sent an email, follow up with the other party to ensure your message was received as it was intended. You can do this by reiterating your key message, asking questions, or sharing detailed minutes or notes from your discussion.

Be responsive.

Unresponsiveness often conveys disrespect or lack of concern for others’ needs. Responding is always productive. When in doubt, a good fall back is, “I don’t know, but I’ll find the answer.”

Be honest.

This may be the last item on this list, but it’s the number one most important practice in effective communication. If you want to be heard, you must be worth listening to. If you are not trustworthy and accountable, you will lose your audience. Deliver both good and bad news as soon as you get it. Remember, the earlier you discuss an issue, the faster the team can resolve it.


While communications may be a significant problem for the construction industry, it is also one that is easy to overcome through consistent and diligent efforts to improve. Collaboration and good communication result in not only more successful construction projects, but also enjoyable construction experiences.

Learn more about how EMJ approaches client relationships and construction projects at

* In April 2018, FMI Corporation partnered with PlanGrid to survey nearly 600 construction leaders and decision makers to discover how teams spend their time while on a job site, challenges associated with poor data management practices and miscommunication, and their technology investments. Read more about the study on


Dottie McCallen has more than 16 years of experience in strategic communications, public relations, and content marketing. As EMJ Communications Manager, Dottie directs the internal and external communications for the company and provides executive counsel on organizational and operational communications. 

Founders’ Hall opens in Collegedale

Last week, EMJ joined the Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation and others to celebrate completion of Founders’ Hall, an event venue for farmer’s markets, weddings, community events, and more.

Photo by Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation Inc.


Founders’ Hall served as phase II of EMJ’s ongoing work at The Commons, an eight-acre cultural and recreational space serving the Collegedale, Tenn., community.

Phase I, which opened in late 2017, included a clock tower, Redwood tree grove, and an open-air pavilion, and Phase III will include the addition of a sound stage for concerts. It is expected to be completed in 2019.

The Commons is the culmination of joint efforts by Collegedale leaders, the Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation, and the public to bring this center to the community.

“We are honored to be a part of bringing this project to Collegedale,” said Matt Elliott, EMJ Project Manager. “The Foundation and community leaders have worked hard to make it possible, and we are glad to be a small part of giving this strong community something to enjoy for years to come. Thanks to all of our trade partners and colleagues for their hard work in getting us here.”

Congratulations to the EMJ team on this project:

Ryan Colbert, Project Engineer
Matt Elliott, Project Manager
Blake Johnson, Lead Superintendent
Joe Woolums, Senior Preconstruction Manager

Pictured (left to right): Matt Elliott, Project Manager; Alex Miller, Vice President of Preconstruction; Ryan Colbert, Project Engineer; and Blake Johnson, Lead Superintendent


For more information on the new space, visit

Related stories:

Chattanooga celebrates grand opening of The Commons

Celebrating 50 Years: Daring to Diversify

A message from Burt Odom, CEO & President, EMJ Corporation

Thirty-five years ago this month, I began my career at EMJ as a preconstruction manager. A month after me, a new project manager named Jay Jolley joined the team. Little did we know that we would both serve as CEO of the company. But that wasn’t the only thing we didn’t know. There were many things about construction, business, clients, leadership, and, quite frankly, life that we had yet to learn, and we continue to learn more each day.

During those first few years at EMJ, I learned the value of deeply understanding your client, their motivations, and their concerns. This not only prepared me for future partnerships, but also laid the foundation for EMJ’s future.

By the early 1990s, EMJ’s reputation for collaboration and client service brought new opportunities, and again the opportunity to learn and grow.

In our fifth excerpt from EMJ Corporation: The First 50 Years, we share how EMJ began to diversify its portfolio and established its presence in Texas.


While EMJ and CBL enjoyed shopping malls’ heyday, change was afoot for the general contractor by the 1990s. The impetus for that change actually began when Jim Sattler [then CEO] and John Foy, chief financial officer of CBL Properties, began collaborating on some smaller neighborhood strip shopping centers in the mid-1980s.

An Opportunity Presents Itself

The decision to consider the neighborhood center opportunities was part of Jim Sattler’s overall vision for EMJ, which involved a desire to diversify. Projects he pursued with John Foy were just the beginning and allowed him, along with Bill McDonald, to develop a direct relationship with Food Lion—one that would take EMJ into an entirely new realm.

For the first time ever, EMJ completed work for a client outside of the CBL relationship; the company built several stores in South Carolina directly for Food Lion, and that firsthand experience opened the door to new opportunities throughout the Southeast. “We were able to establish a relationship because of our professionalism and commitment and ability to complete things on time,” Sattler says. “Food Lion took notice, and they came to us just after those three stores opened and asked us if we’d be interested in doing a warehouse for them in South Carolina. And that led to another 10 million square feet of warehouse space over a period of time.”

Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, project manager Ron Jobe, who was promoted to vice president overseeing Food Lion warehouse construction and later became executive vice president of the Chattanooga office, and superintendent Jim Self, who later became vice president of construction, led the completion of at least one major Food Lion distribution center project per year, with each site comprising approximately eight hundred thousand square feet of space. It was a massive undertaking, and EMJ achieved great success with the program. Food Lion was so impressed that it offered the company a chance to tackle an even more complex project based out of Dallas, Texas: the construction of 42 Food Lion stores and a 1-million-square-foot distribution center to serve Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

Jim Sattler pegged Jay Jolley and Burt Odom to relocate to Dallas to spearhead the program. “When we moved to Dallas, we started with nothing,” Odom reveals. “We did not know the market. We did not have any employees except for Jay and me. We were both twenty-nine, so inexperienced, and going to do a project of that magnitude with no office and no people. It was a giant challenge.”

However, with the Dallas market in a financial free fall at that time, Jolley and Odom were able to find willing employees and subcontractors quickly and got the program under way. They also brought trusted EMJ employees, including assistant superintendent Glenard Ratcliff, who retired in 2016 as director of construction, to Dallas to help manage the program. They set up a system that allowed EMJ to streamline the construction process and build multiple stores simultaneously. As Food Lion continued to grow in the regional market, the chain increased the number of requested stores. “In about a two-and-a-half-year period, we built 102 stores and a million-square-foot distribution center,” Odom continues.

“EMJ had built up an organization that could move in a big way with big projects,” says Spencer Storie, vice president of planning and development for Food Lion at the time. “They had good people throughout the whole organization—really great superintendents, project managers, and subcontractors who could fast-track a project. And they accomplished something that no one in the US had been able to do at that magnitude. We couldn’t have done it without EMJ.”

Related stories:

Celebrating 50 Years: A New Name Heralds New Opportunities

Celebrating 50 years: Above and Beyond

Celebrating 50 years: How it all began


More Than a Meal: Small Actions, Big Impact

The Principles of Client Experience are the Same, No Matter How You Slice It


Providing our clients an excellent construction experience is at the heart of everything we do. As in every venture and life, challenges and problems sometimes arise that our team must overcome. A true servant leader is someone who understands this and works to overcome challenges by taking responsibility and action, no matter who is at fault.

Recently, an American Airlines flight was rerouted because of weather, stranding its passengers. The pilot empathized with his customers and took action:

Passing out pizzas didn’t solve all the passengers’ problems, but you can bet that giving them a meal made the experience less difficult than it could have been.

We believe taking any action to improve our clients’ experience is meaningful, even if it seems small compared to the problem. In the construction industry, it can be as simple as taking time to talk with a client or trade partner, or assisting an employee with career goals.

By doing the little things, day by day, our employees strive to make the construction experience better and to provide value to our clients. We know by alleviating just one frustration, we are fulfilling our purpose to be people serving people.

We commend the pilot for his exceptional service. Read more about him on


Deron Smith leads the marketing and communications team in internal and external marketing and communication strategy. He has 20 years of experience as a consultant and in-house communications and marketing professional. Before joining EMJ in 2015, Deron served as the National Director of Communications for the Boy Scouts of America and held positions with notable public relations firms Edelman, Publicis Dialog and The Gooden Group.