By Becky Gillette • Photography by Johnny Jennings
Vennis Upchurch founded Upchurch Plumbing, Inc. (UPI) in Greenwood in 1970 with one truck and one helper. Today, the mechanical and plumbing contractor has grown to be a major powerhouse doing business throughout the Southeast. As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, it has opened offices in Ridgeland and Jackson, Tenn., and grown to spin off several other companies under the Upchurch Companies umbrella with total employment of 645.
For the first 25 years, UPI mainly performed work within a 60-mile radius of the headquarters in Greenwood. Typical projects included small commercial buildings, design build jobs, schools, hospitals, factories, and many others.
Robbie and Mike, the sons of Vennis and his wife, Loyce Overley, started working on holidays weekends and summers with the business when they were only 10 and 11 years old. Robbie, company president, started working full-time for the company after graduating from high school in 1976. Mike, vice president, started after graduation in 1978. A younger brother, David, began working at the company in 1983 and is treasurer. Their sister, Cindy Hawkins, secretary, came into the business around 1985.
Over the past 10 years, Upchurch has averaged starting 64.5 jobs a year. Some major customers include the Greenwood Leflore Hospital, Viking Range, Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville, Baxter Industries in Cleveland, and projects at all the State Universities.
Robbie attributes their success to surrounding themselves with good people who are treated with fairness and respect.
“We treat all our employees like we would like to be treated,” says Robbie. “We have a lot of repeat work with both owners and general contractors.”
Another advantage is being involved with companies starting with the design phase, throughout the construction period, during the close-out portion of the project, and ending with the warranty period.
“A full-service firm that can provide all of these services, while also providing a safe working environment, outstanding quality, a sound reputation in the industry, and a solid history of completing projects on time is truly a valuable asset to any owner,” says Cindy Hawkins.
With its many divisions, Upchurch is a diverse business that includes an automated fabrication sheet metal manufacturing facility along with another 60,000 square foot pre-fabrication facility used to produce plumbing and mechanical piping systems used on their projects. These facilities are located in Greenwood.
Chris Collins, president, Roy Collins Construction Company, Inc., Cleveland, has worked with Upchurch Plumbing since its founding.
“We have watched them go from a small plumbing company in their beginning to the very large mechanical contractor they are today,” says Collins. “Despite their phenomenal growth, we still receive the same personal service from Upchurch as we always have. If the Upchurchs tell you something, you know it will be done correctly. That is a rarity in today’s world. Upchurch does excellent work and is a great company to do business with. We are so lucky to have them remain headquartered in the Mississippi Delta.”
Chris recalls that his father and Vennis talked every morning on the phone concerning on-going projects.
“Vennis was one of my Dad’s best friends,” says Collins. “Vennis passed down his core beliefs to his children and those beliefs remain intact today.”
Vennis passed away on July 21, 1997, at the age of sixty.
George Malouf, president and founder of Malouf Construction, Greenwood, has known the Upchurch family practically all of his life.
“All you really need to know about the Upchurch Companies is who raised the current management team,” says Malouf. “When Kathy and I moved back to Mississippi and started our business in the late 1980’s, I could always count on Mr. Vennis for encouragement and sage advice. Ms. Loyce is a fine as lady as there is anywhere. She just seemed to ‘pop up’ where there is a need. The apples did not fall far from the tree. They are a smart, hardworking, superbly capable, super successful family that conducts their affairs with the highest business ethics and makes doing business enjoyable. You cannot ask for more.”
Malouf says they have built between forty and fifty projects together over the past several years, and it is a joy to have them on their construction sites.
“All of us here have super high respect for the Upchurch firms and confidence in their capabilities,” he says. “Over the years I have especially admired the Upchurch’s for their commitment to their employees’ safety and well-being and their consistency in giving back to their community and industry. The Upchurch family continues to leave a positive mark on our industry. Put simply, they do it right.”
At the time the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in March, the company won bids for changing out air conditioners in five schools in Mississippi and Tennessee.
“When the virus started mid-March, we had the opportunity to bid on a couple more schools, so all together we are changing out the air conditioners in seven schools this summer,” says Mike Upchurch. “This is helping with a lot of our labor through the end of summer. We have also been bidding other types of projects so that we can keep everyone busy in the 3rd and 4th quarter this year and starting in 2021.
“Talking to different people around the country, I think in time we will see a lot of manufacturing jobs coming back to the U.S., and I think the Southeastern part of the United States will see an increase in this work.”
Mike received the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation (MCEF) Hard Hat Award in 2019. He was president of that organization twice and served on its board of directors for 19 years before leaving in 2018.
MCEF plays a vital role in helping train the state’s craft workforce in jobs that pay well and are in big demand.
“MCEF has programs where they expose eighth grade students to the construction industry,” says Mike. “They have more than 2,000 eighth graders go through the Passport-to-Careers Expo on training during the SkillsUSA competition. MCEF works with 110 Career Technical Education Centers and in 2018 had 4,725 high school students, 186 programs and 186 instructors enrolled in the NCCER curriculum.”
Companies Upchurch started or acquired through the years include Upchurch Rental, 2001 and Upchurch Services Inc., 2002, relocated to Horn Lake in 2006, with an office opening in Ridgeland in 2007.
In 2004, UPI acquired a controlling interest in Moses Electric Inc. based in Jackson and Gulfport.
In 2013, Upchurch Mechanical DBA was formed and opened an office in Jackson, Tenn. This office does design build projects throughout the Southeastern part of the U.S. In 2016 Upchurch Mechanical started a service division to serve their customers in West Tennessee.
In 2014, Upchurch Industrial was developed by the acquisition of Jones Brothers, Inc.
In 2015, Craft Croswell (craftcroswell.com), a commercial flooring contractor, became part of Upchurch Family.
In 2015, Upchurch launched Lining and Coatings Solutions (liningcoatingsolutions.com), a specialty trenchless options for failing pipe systems, adding another office in Tampa, Fla., area in 2018.
In 2017, Upchurch Services acquired Hermetic-Rush, which expanded their territory to better serve their customers in the Jackson and South Mississippi areas.
In 2018, Upchurch Environmental was started in Horn Lake.
In 2018, Upchurch acquired MISSCO Interior Concepts, LLC (missco.com).
In 2019, Upchurch Services opened a residential division which serves North Mississippi and the greater Memphis Area.
In 1972, Upchurch was awarded its first commercial project. Their scope of work included plumbing and HVAC on a two-story wing for the Holiday Inn in Greenville and a renovation to the Bank of Greenwood.
Around 1974, Upchurch teamed up with Universal Steel Builders out of Grenada to do the plumbing and HVAC for a number of manufacturing facilities. When the federal low-income housing program geared up, the company teamed up with Allen Corporation out of Indianola for about a three-year stint helping build projects ranging from 24 to 150 units each through the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta.
In the early 1980s, Upchurch helped build and renovate catfish processing facilities, which require a lot of pluming, for about eight years.
In 1985, Boeing Aircraft came to Greenville, and the company got its first experience doing fast-track construction renovating some old hangers and building new facilities. Working with White Construction out of Clarksdale, UPI geared up to work 7–10-hour days for a few months at a time.
In the late 1980’s into the early 1990’s the company geared up to build 11 regional jails and work centers in the region. That was followed by a big surge in growth during the mid-1990s doing several major casino projects across the state. When the casino industry began to slow, Upchurch changed its direction and grew its portfolio by working on several federal and state projects throughout the Southeast.
During the late 1990’s, the company started doing building and renovations work for Viking Range Corp. Viking Range is still a great partner with Upchurch today.
The company’s next big project was working on several federal prisons in Yazoo City, Polluck, La., and Aliceville, Ala. Upchurch also did work on private prisons in Natchez and Eloy, Ariz.
After Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, the company mobilized and stayed a couple of years helping rebuild the Coast.
In 2007 Upchurch had contracts on two casinos in Oklahoma.
Upchurch Companies has done well adapting to whatever came their way and taking advantage of opportunities. Upchurch has created a one-stop shop that can take care of their customers, and still uses the slogan “Where Quality Still Means Something.”