The Mark of a Servant Leader

At EMJ, our purpose is to be people serving people. Whether in an office, at a meeting, or on a job site, we perform our work by serving others.

But does that end at 5 o’clock when we go home? Are the people we seek to serve and inspire limited to those we cross paths with during our typical work day? Sarah Kirby, IT Support Manager for EMJ Corporation, doesn’t think so and she has a scar to prove it.

Her story starts almost two years ago when her best friend Kate found out that she was in end stage renal failure due to Polycystic Kidney Disease. This diagnosis meant that she needed a kidney transplant.

With Sarah by her side, Kate took immediate action to be placed on the National Recipient List for a donation, which she was placed on a few months later — this was the good news. The bad news was that the doctors estimated it would be five years before Kate would receive a kidney.

Sarah had promised Kate that when it came time for a new kidney, she would gladly give her own. So Sarah called the transplant center and began the process of donating a kidney to Kate.

“You only need one kidney so you should donate your spare,” said Sarah, which is exactly what she intended to do. Unfortunately, she was not a match. “I’ve never been more devastated in my life,” she said.

There was, however, another option. Even if you are not a match for your intended recipient, you can still donate on his or her behalf. This is possible because of Piedmont Healthcare’s Paired-Kidney Exchanges – an intricate process of mixing and matching recipients and their donors in an ever-widening pool until the right pairings are found. While that means your kidney may go to a stranger, your donation assures that the person you volunteered to help gets a new organ too.

Sarah leapt at this opportunity and was approved, allowing Sarah and Kate to be paired together. They were told it would be about a year before matches were found and they would have months to plan the surgery. That was the first of January. Surprisingly, by the second week of March, Sarah received a call that there was someone in need of her kidney and that they also had a kidney for Kate.

“I got a call and they needed me to say yes to start the chain…and they needed the answer within the hour,” said Sarah. “I was shocked but somehow collected myself enough to say yes. I got to tell Kate she was getting a new kidney. This was by far the best phone call I have or will ever make.”

The process worked like a three-team, multi-player, NBA trade. Sarah’s kidney was sent to a recipient from San Francisco. In turn, that recipient’s living donor sent a kidney to a recipient in South Carolina. Finally, the trade was completed when that recipient’s living donor sent a kidney to Kate.

Kate and Sarah’s surgeries were completed on March 27, a few hours apart. Kate’s new kidney immediately worked and today she is doing better than she has in many years.

Sarah doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. “I am not going to lie, it was scary to think about having a kidney removed,” said Sarah, “But, I really love my best friend, she’s a really good one. So I did it for a very selfish reason – I want her to be around as long as possible.”

Sarah may claim her kidney donation was “selfish,” but there’s nothing selfish about it. EMJ is grateful to have people like Sarah on our team, reminding us that giving of yourself is tough and can leave a scar, but that it’s also the mark of a servant leader.

Sarah Kirby (R) with her best friend Kate (L) after their surgeries.


Are you interested in learning more about this procedure? Check out the Piedmont Transplant’s Living Donor Program. Click here to learn more about EMJ’s purpose and values.

Reconsidering the Death of the Shopping Mall

Mark Twain once received an inquiry from a journalist who heard rumors that he was ill and possibly near death. Twain confirmed his health and famously stated, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” History is littered with premature reports derived from incomplete information.

In much the same way, experts have reported the death of the American mall. At one time, malls were the center of the retail universe and a cultural icon. They were then hit hard by a combination of several factors including ecommerce, economic recessions, and changes in culture. Yet, these questions remain — Is the concept of the mall universally dead or just evolving? What does this mean for developers and owners? The answer is complicated.

According to a Smithsonian Magazine story, quoting the research firm Green Street Advisors, “The current state of malls varies by the classification of the mall, which is based on productivity and quality of tenants. Malls with higher classifications are doing well and owners are investing in them, while those with a lesser class are struggling with many closing permanently, and still others are reinventing themselves by finding creative ways to appeal to customers.”

Revitalizing a mall requires channeling quite a bit of creativity into rethinking how to use the space. According to a article, non-traditional tenants like bowling alleys, movie theaters and digitally native brands are also finding their way into these spaces.

Jeff Brewer, with EMJ Construction, echoed this idea, “Developers and owners are open to adding anything that is complimentary to their revised vision for the overall property. This may include experiential entertainment options, multi-family housing, hotels, restaurants, offices, and an array of other options.”

EMJ has a wide-range of experience in building and redeveloping malls, as well as adding venues to malls as part of their revitalization. Following are several lessons learned from EMJ’s many years of experience:

  • Think like a theme park. Traditionally, malls were a set of independent stores — selling mostly clothing and personal items — but with the redevelopment of malls it’s important to look at the overall environment of the property and create a new vision for it that matches the needs of its community. Much like a theme park, customers are expecting an experience, complete with a well thought out and coordinated theme.
  • Think outside the [big] box. Malls are getting a lot of value by demolishing vacant big box anchor stores and creating an open-air environment, a sense of place. This is a big commitment and reconfiguring the space has its challenges. It’s important to pick partners that understand the construction of a mall in order to know how to effectively subdivide the area to maximize the space for a return on investment.
  • Think two steps ahead. These projects are a journey, not a destination. Redeveloping a mall is an ongoing investment and it must evolve along with its customers. It’s important to create a dedicated maintenance budget and upgrade offerings and finishes on a regular basis so that the next move can be anticipated.

“Because times have changed, the mall is no longer the center of the retail universe,” said Jacob Wadlington, with EMJ Construction. “However, with a strategic vision and commitment, they can remain a viable destination with great potential.”

With apologies to Mark Twain, for the time being the report of The Death of the American Malls was an exaggeration.

To learn more, check out: The Future of the Shopping Mall, McKinsey & Company, Malls Take a 48-Hour Beating as Retailers Cull Over 300 Stores, Fortune Magazine, and Dead Malls.

Newest Cinemark Theatre is a Cut Above

With nearly 550 theatres and more than 6,000 screens in the U.S. and Latin America, Cinemark is a clear-cut leader in the motion picture exhibition industry. But, the company’s latest creation is clearly a cut above.

CUT! by Cinemark brings a fresh approach to in-theater dining and entertainment. The 10-screen theatre is a new approach to dine-in movie going offering a complete entertainment experience, featuring delicious cuisine, hand-crafted cocktails and the ideal social setting.

“The space we have created with CUT! by Cinemark allows everyone to have an exceptional time, whether they are savoring our unique, freshly prepared food and drink, catching a movie or both,” said Mark Zoradi, Cinemark’s CEO. “This is just another example of how Cinemark is innovating the movie going experience and offering guests an all-encompassing entertainment destination.”

Moviegoers will have their entrees, beverages and traditional snacks delivered discreetly to their seat with just the push of a button. The restaurant, lounge and patio are welcoming environments designed to offer guests fun, casual and social spaces.

This brand-new theater boasts a wide array of offerings including:

  • Ten ultra-modern auditoriums with wall-to-wall screens and enhanced sounds systems
  • Cinemark Luxury Loungers—electric-powered, plush, oversize recliners with footrests, swivel trays, cup holders and heat-controlled seats
  • CinemarkXD auditorium -the No.1 private label Premium Large Format (PLF) in the world, featuring state-of-the-art picture and sound quality
  • 4K digital projection powered by Barco projectors; RealD 3D capability in several auditoriums
  • A unique and freshly prepared menu of cuisine to enjoy, from fan-favorite snacks to full meals and scrumptious desserts
  • A full-service bar offering more than 20 popular beers, including local draft IPAs, as well as an impressive wine selection, four specialty martinis and signature cocktails
  • An inviting outdoor patio with a fireplace and interactive social games
    A sophisticated banquet space that accommodates up to 50 guests and available by reservation year-round
  • A contemporary game room offering an assortment of popular games complete with a prize hub
  • Walk-up, easy-to-use ticket kiosks with a welcoming guest services area
  • Reserved seating with online and app ticketing capabilities to make any night on the town as convenient as possible
  • Cinemark Luxury Loungers—electric-powered, plush, oversize recliners with footrests, swivel trays, cup holders and heat-controlled seats.

Built by EMJ Construction, the theater sits on a 12-acre site, spans 53,290 square feet, and features a 9,205-square-foot mezzanine. The development contains high-end finishes throughout and is a LEED Silver project.

“We are proud to have partnered with Cinemark on this endeavor,” said William Moshier, EVP, EMJ Construction. “It’s not every day that you get to work with clients who are pushing the boundaries of their industry and delivering exceptional experiences to their clients.”

Visit Cinemark’s site to learn more about this fresh approach to movie theatres and purchase tickets. Click here to read about EMJ’s work on the project.

Lidl Opens Stores in Atlanta Area to Much Fanfare

Two of EMJ Construction’s Lidl projects recently opened in Snellville and Mableton, Georgia, two of the first three stores in the Atlanta area.

The Snellville, GA Lidl store. Photo: David Keith from the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Two of EMJ Construction’s Lidl projects recently opened in Snellville and Mableton, Georgia.

The first of the stores to open was Snellville, opened on Wednesday, January 30, to a packed house. The Gwinnett Daily Post, was on hand to capture the excitement:

The first customers braved temperatures in the mid-20s just so they could be the first people in the door. Store officials said the first customer to arrive was Snellville resident John Rudovich, who said he arrived shortly after 3 a.m. to get in line for the 8 a.m. opening.

The store employs about 60 people at the store, which has about 36,000 square feet of space — about 21,000 of which is the actual shopping area, according to Lidl spokeswoman Chandler Ebeier.

“We’re definitely very excited to be in Georgia (and) we will continue to expand here and along the east coast,” she said. “It’s definitely great to open the door and be in the Snellville community.”

Ebeier said she was impressed to see the line of customers who braved the cold temperatures to be at the grand opening.

“It was crazy and for 25-degree weather, that is very impressive and it definitely goes to show how people are excited about Lidl opening in the community,” she said. “Grans openings are one of my favorite things to attend. We just love to open in new communities and introduce our high quality and low prices to brand new customers in the area.”

A recent Lidl opening. Photo: The Patch.

The Mableton store opened on Wednesday, February 12. The Snellville and Mableton locations are two of the first three stores in the Atlanta area. To read the full story, visit: Gwinnettians pack German grocer Lidl’s Snellville store for grand opening.

“Lidl is a fantastic client,” said Chas Torrence, EVP of EMJ Construction. “They provide a premium product and excellent experience to their customers, which is why they have a loyal and dedicated following. We’re proud to partner with them as they expand their brand and reach.”

Lidl operates over 10,500 stores in 29 countries. They have a history of cultivating relationships with local suppliers in each region to offer customers high quality products at low prices. They have recently expanded to the United States and are striving to be a time-saving, life-enhancing grocery store where customers love to shop. Visit Lidl to learn more.

Signal Energy Leaders Discuss Exciting 2019 Projects

Greg Pawson and Julian Bell of Signal Energy sat down with Mike Pare of the Chattanooga Times Free Press to discuss the company’s exciting 2019 outlook.

Julian Bell, left, and Greg Pawson, of Signal Energy Constructors, talk about upcoming construction projects.
Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Recently Greg Pawson and Julian Bell of Signal Energy sat down with Mike Pare of the Chattanooga Times Free Press to discuss the company’s 2019 outlook. Here’s an excerpt of the story which ran on Sunday, February 3, 2019:

With tariffs on solar panels taking some sizzle out of that market in 2018, a Chattanooga company says business is heating back up with plans for its biggest-ever project and a push into Australia.

Signal Energy Constructors, which designs and builds utility-scale solar installations, is readying large projects in Texas, Georgia and Australia, said company President Greg Pawson.

The over 600 megawatt array in Texas is the largest the company has ever done and one of the nation’s biggest, he said.

“We’ll start design this year,” Pawson said about the company that’s owned by Chattanooga-based construction giant EMJ Corp.

Also, the business founded in 2005 last year opened an office in Australia, where it’s working on what will be the biggest solar array in that country, he said.

Signal Energy has been picked to build a 333 megawatt solar plant in New South Wales, Pawson said.

That installation will produce enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 115,000 homes and displace more than 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, the company said.

To read the full story, visit: Chattanooga solar power array maker takes on its biggest-ever project.

Signal Energy is the renewable energy subsidiary of EMJ Corporation. Signal Energy, is a leading full service design/build contractor providing Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) services for utility-scale renewable energy projects. Signal Energy Australia opened January 2018 and is headquartered in Sydney.

EMJ Promotes Senior Preconstruction Leaders

Left to Right: Alex Miller, SVP, Preconstruction and Keith Starkes, VP, Preconstruction.

EMJ Construction has promoted Alex Miller to Senior Vice President of Preconstruction for its Chattanooga-based team, and Keith Starkes to Vice President of Preconstruction for its Dallas-based team. 

In these roles they will plan, organize, and direct the activities of the Preconstruction Department, provide overall leadership and management of the client experience process. Additionally, they serve as a champion for EMJ’s strategic vision.

Miller attended the University of Tennessee – Knoxville where he earned a degree in civil engineering. He joined EMJ Construction in 2008 as a Project Engineer. Since that time he has held several successive roles including Senior Project Estimator, Director of Preconstruction and Vice President of Preconstruction.

“At a construction firm, one of the key roles is leader of the preconstruction department because that department is the key to delivering a great client experience,” said Chas Torrence, EVP of EMJ Construction, Chattanooga. “Throughout his many years with EMJ, Alex has demonstrated expertise in the construction industry and an unquestionable dedication to serving our clients, partners and colleagues.”

While at EMJ, he’s served on several high-profile projects in Tennessee including: Wacker Polysilicon, a polysilicon production plant in Bradley; Market City Center, a massive mixed-use project in downtown Chattanooga; and, the high-profile renovation work for Ruby Falls, a 145- foot high underground waterfall located within Lookout Mountain.

Starkes attended the Texas A&M University-Commerce where he earned a degree in construction science. He joined EMJ Construction in 2004 as a Project Engineer. Since that time he has held several successive roles including Superintendent, Project Manager, Senior Project Estimator, and Director of Preconstruction.

“Keith has displayed a dedication to serving his colleague and clients from the day he started at EMJ,” said William Mosher, EVP of EMJ Construction, Dallas. “Our preconstruction department sets the course for the project and it’s where we first earn trust from our clients. He’s passionate, fair, and humble. He will continue to be a steady and pragmatic voice helping to ensure we deliver value on each project.”

While at EMJ, he’s served on several high-profile projects in Texas including: Farmer Brothers Co. Headquarters, an office building and distribution center in Northlake; various programmatic projects for Lowes, Kohl’s and Walmart; and, the upcoming Alpha + Inwood project, a massive mixed-use development that includes a hotel, office building, and retail space, in Farmers Branch.

Market City Center, downtown Chattanooga.


A rendering of the The Alpha + Inwood project.

EMJ Participates in the Urban Land Institute Event

Recently, the global think-tank Urban Land Institute hosted its annual forecast on real estate and development trends for 2019 in Chattanooga. EMJ Corporation sponsored the event in partnership with the AGC of East Tennessee, AIA Chattanooga, Chattanooga Design Studio and River City Company.

Anita Kramer, Senior Vice President at ULI Center for Capital Markets & Real Estate started the event with her presentation on the Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2019 report. The report is annually published by ULI each year. The Emerging Trends report is considered one of the most credible and well-regarded forecasts in the real estate industry. Drawing on insight from industry leaders, the report considers industry wide variables including U.S. investment and development trends, real estate finance and capital markets, property sectors, metropolitan areas, construction influences and other real estate issues.

Following ULI’s macro-forecast of the 2019 U.S. real estate trends, a panel of local experts gathered to provide a more specific discussion on Chattanooga’s 2019 outlook. The panelists included Chas Torrence, EVP of EMJ Construction, Tiffanie Robinson, CEO of Lamp Post Properties, and John Clark owner of Tennessee Development Resources. The panel was moderated by Jim Williamson of River City Company and covered a range of topics from the impact of Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds to rising construction costs and qualified labor shortages in Chattanooga.

The event was a first of its kind in Chattanooga and one that EMJ and presenting partners hope will help establish a ULI presence in Chattanooga permanently. Industry partners attending the event came from as far as Nashville and Atlanta and consisted of various developers, investors, designers, and more.

EMJ hopes to be a driving force behind Chattanooga’s affiliation with the Urban Land Institute while also helping to unify Chattanooga’s real estate development leaders and build upon continued growth in the same community where EMJ was founded in 1968.

Report by, Sam Marks, EMJ Construction 


EMJ Serves The Chattanooga Community Kitchen

EMJ’s Chattanooga employees took over the Chattanooga Community Kitchen  (CCK) to share the Christmas spirit.

“We love the mission of the Kitchen, which is to meet the most basic needs of hungry, homeless and vulnerable people in our community, while offering a clear path to self-sufficiency,” said Tina Brogdon, who serves as EMJ’s liaison with the Kitchen.

This was the seventh consecutive year EMJ hosted a Christmas party for the clients and employees of the Kitchen. EMJ partners with the Kitchen because it allows employees to support a great cause through service.

EMJ employees tooks shifts decorating the Kitchen, cooking and serving meals, and making phone calls to ask for donations for the organization. The team prepared and served nearly 600 meals.

The kitchen offers a variety of services to its clients. Through all of the services, it seeks to satisfy the spiritual and physical hunger of people in Chattanooga. There are no fees or requirements for receiving the Kitchen’s services; instead, they are offered out of love and compassion.

“Those who have been given great gifts have greater responsibilities,” said Brogdon.” We appreciate the Kitchen and are humbled to help in a very small way.”

The Community Kitchen relies volunteer support to accomplish its mission. Groups and individual volunteers are needed year-round. You may sign up to volunteer here, or by emailing

Signal Energy Australia to build 333MW Darlington Point Solar Plant

The Australian subsidiary of Signal Energy, a member of the EMJ family of companies, has been selected by Edify Energy and Octopus Investments to build the 333MWdc/275MWac Darlington Point Solar Plant in western New South Wales, Australia.

The Australian subsidiary of  Signal Energy, a member of the EMJ family of companies, has been selected by Edify Energy and Octopus Investments to build the 333MWdc/275MWac Darlington Point Solar Plant in western New South Wales, Australia.

This is Signal’s second project in Australia, and when completed, it will be the largest solar project in the country, producing enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 115,000 NSW homes and displacing more than 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. This is Signal Energy Australia’s second partnership with Canadian Solar, Inc. who will supply the solar modules for the project.

 “We are extremely pleased that Edify Energy and Octopus Investments selected us to construct the Darlington Point project,” said Greg Pawson, President of Signal Energy, “Edify’s track record of success in Australia, collaboration, and focus on quality makes them an ideal customer to work with. Octopus brings a wealth of solar investment experience from Europe and we look forward to building our relationship with them.”

Construction starts in March 2019 and will be complete in 2020. The solar plant will be built on approximately 2,000 acres near Darlington Point, New South Wales, Australia. Over 820,000 of Canadian Solar’s 1500V high efficiency HiKu (CS3W-P) will be installed on single-axis tracking systems.

  “We are delighted to be selected by Edify Energy and Octopus Investments to provide EPC services together with Signal Energy and to supply our high efficiency and industry-leading 1500V and 400W multi-crystalline solar modules to this large-scale solar power plant,” said Dr. Shawn Qu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Solar. “Our work with Darlington Point Solar Farm further demonstrates our strengths as a systems solutions provider with global experience. We are committed to work closely with local Australian communities in creating new jobs and to provide customers in Australia with affordable and reliable solar energy.”

Signal Energy, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a leading full service design/build contractor providing Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) services for utility-scale renewable energy projects. Signal Energy is the renewable energy subsidiary of EMJ Corporation. Signal Energy Australia opened January 2018 and is headquartered in Sydney. For more information about Signal’s recent projects, visit Darlington Point Solar Farm or Finley Solar Farm.

The universal principles of client experience 

This August, my wife and I welcomed our third son. After his arrival, I was charged with bringing our two oldest sons to the hospital to see their mom and meet their new brother. Little did I know that it would be a lesson in client experience.

Entering the hospital, I was nervous. It was hot. The boys were tired, and as excited as they were about their new brother, we were worried about how they would adjust to the change. It was a lot to process.

As we passed the reception area, I treated it like we were trying to slip past an old East German checkpoint—act like you belong, walk with a purpose, and don’t make eye contact. We were almost home free, when the receptionist shouted, “Wait, your boys need identification bracelets.” She left and returned with bracelets that said “Big Brother.”

The impact of this gesture was immediate. The boys were ecstatic, and seeing that, I was at ease. Undoubtedly, the hospital staff had seen thousands of weary dads in the exact same situation. They were taught to recognize it and empowered to engage with families to help alleviate stress.

What does this have to do with commercial construction? More than you might think.

Providing our clients an exceptional experience is at the heart of everything we do. By doing the little things, day by day, our employees strive to make the construction experience better and to provide value to our clients.

It doesn’t matter if you work at a hospital delivering babies, or if you’re a superintendent overseeing the construction and delivery of the hospital itself, the principles of a great client experience are the same. It’s as simple as every single employee paying attention to clients, empathizing with their situation, and taking actions to improve their experience.

Learn more about EMJ’s approach, designed to produce significant benefits for our clients and make the experience enjoyable.


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.