History

A legacy of doing right by our customers.

Over the course of our history, a lot has changed. The one thing that hasn’t? Our dedication to be the best possible partner to every customer. Explore Gray through the decades—and see how we’ve helped our customers build a prosperous future.

The Beginning

1940

When James Norris Gray was a young naval petty officer in WWII, he realized business would not be done the same in the postwar economy. He was right. James Norris returned from the war to work with his father in the ice plant, which shortly went out of business as a result of new refrigeration and air conditioning technology.

1950s

Replica of James Norris Gray’s 1948 pickup truck

1953

In 1953, James Norris Gray took the first step into the construction industry with what would become an international business.

James Norris Gray’s first construction project, a tobacco barn on the Howard family farm.

1957

Thanks to James Norris’ uncanny ability to build relationships, recruit the right talent, and understand the customers’ needs, Gray begins to win choice regional contracts.

Lois Gray turned her passion for interior design into a business.
Caverna High School in Horse Cave, KY was built by James Norris Gray’s first construction business, Glasgow Construction.

1960s

1960

In 1960, James N. Gray Construction was incorporated. Gray’s first major project as a general contractor was the Uptowner Motel in downtown Glasgow, KY – a visible project that would put his new company on the map. Years quickly passed, and James Norris was building a family, a business, and a community.

1970s

New Headquarters on Happy Valley Road in Glasgow, KY.

1971

The James N. Gray Construction company moved into its new headquarters on Happy Valley Road in Glasgow, KY.

Lois Howard Gray’s interior design of Gray’s first office building included modern decor and furnishings.

1972

After the untimely death of James Norris Gray in 1972, the family business pressed on with Howard Gray, the oldest son, becoming president at age 23.

My father was much more than a builder in the literal sense of the word. He was a builder of people… of communities… of our state… and of our nation. He touched so many lives, in so many ways.

Howard Gray
Howard Gray worked with plant manager George Guttschalk to put the finishing touches on the Eaton Axle plant in Glasgow, KY.

1974

With financial disaster looming, the Grays learned the value of relationships from Gabe Alberici, owner of a large construction company in St. Louis.

Gabe Alberici provided critical mentoring for the Grays during this difficult time.

1979

Gray entered the international market with a project for Toshiba in 1979.

That really did establish a long relationship where Japanese business has been undertaken on the basis of a strong level of trust and confidence that goes both ways.

Jim Gray
Gray's involvement was solidified with a simple photograph and a handshake.

1980s

Safety luncheons became a popular way to recognize and reward field workers for maintaining high safety standards on the jobsite.

1980

In the ‘80s with Toyota’s help, Gray created the Safety Circle and instituted safety training as a part of its commitment to an incident-free jobsite. The company also celebrated safety by hosting safety luncheons and pig roasts. Gray became one of a select few in the nation to receive the National Business Roundtable Award for Excellence in Safety.

Safety signage was but one way Gray began emphasizing safety on the jobsite in the 1980s.

1985

By the mid-80s, Gray was on the fast track to significant growth and success. Gray was doing more than designing and building – the company was building lasting relationships.

Hitachi chose Gray to build its first U.S.-based automotive parts plant in Harrodsburg, KY.

1986

Toyota Motor Manufacturing, U.S.A. broke ground on its Georgetown, KY facility after a hard-fought battle by the state of Kentucky to win the plant. Gray was chosen to build the company’s plastics building.

Groundbreaking ceremony in Georgetown, KY.

1988

In 1988, the Gray family made a painful—but necessary—decision to move the company headquarters from Glasgow, KY to Lexington, KY. Keeping true to the family-owned roots, members of the Gray family have provided leadership throughout the company’s history.

Gray's new headquarters was located in the Lexington Financial Center, the tallest building in downtown Lexington.

1990s

The Service Team was created in 1990, providing aftercare services to Gray customers upon completion of a project.

In the early ‘90s, Gray’s values, vision, and mission were defined as “Gray: Measurably the Best.” This reflected the company’s desire to maintain the same values on which it was founded.

Yamasa selects Gray for its Oregon soy sauce operation.

Throughout its history, Gray has earned a reputation for honesty, integrity, discipline, and hard work. In the mid-90’s the Associated Builders and Contractors, or ABC, named Gray as the recipient for the ABC National Award of Merit for Excellence in Construction.

1995

By the mid-90s, Gray had mastered all aspects of construction project management from planning to engineering and resources, pushed it to deliver the best possible outcome on every project.

Gray received the prestigious Business Roundtable Contractor Safety Award three consecutive times in the 1990s.

1997

In April of 1997, Gray opened the doors to its new home in the heart of downtown Lexington.

Gray will become an anchor for that area of Main Street, which has been in transition. It’s going to be more prosperous because of them.

Realtor Jeffrey Stidham
Gray's Headquarters at 10 Quality Street in Lexington, KY.

1999

To serve an expanding customer base, Gray opened offices from coast to coast and began to acquire sister companies – WS Construction in 1999 and Gray-I.C.E. Builders, Inc. in 2001.

2000s

Jeff Beard (center), the first CEO of DBIA, presented the National Design-Build Award to Gray. Pictured are Tom Ash; Howard Gray; Phil Seale; Jeff Beard; Kunio Nakamura; Randolph Wilson; and Tadataka Shimotakahara.

2001

By the millennium, Gray was recognized as one of the top design and construction firms in the U.S.

2004

After supervising the sales and marketing operations, Jim Gray became president and CEO of Gray in 2004, serving until 2009.

2005

In 2005, Gray developed a renewed focus on customers, markets, and relationships dedicated to creating unforgettable customer experiences. This emphasis led Gray to continue developing projects across the U.S., working with companies around the world.

Groundbreaking memories to show relationship commitment.
In November of 2008, Gray completed a nearly 50,000 s.f. facility for Toyo Ink.

2009

In 2009, a shift in leadership occurred when Stephen Gray was name president and chief operating officer with Jim Gray stepping into the chairman and chief executive officer roles.

2010s

Despite the difficulties of the recession, the Gray team stuck together and focused on its core values to guide them through the downturn, thus equipping the company to shine during the U.S. manufacturing resurgence.

Gray walked away from the recession with projects for companies such as Caterpillar Inc., Siemens Energy, Inc., and Michelin North America, Inc.

2011

In 2011, Stephen Gray was named president and chief executive officer of the company.

Gray announced an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), at 20% employee owned.

2012

In 2012, Gray celebrated the life of the company’s co-founder and Gray family matriarch Lois Howard Gray, who lost her courageous battle with Alzheimer’s Disease on March 19, 2012.

2014

In 2014, Gray announced its acquisition of Timberwolff Construction, Inc., an Upland, CA construction firm specializing in the retail construction industry. The companies joined forces due to similar values and the growth opportunities for all parties involved.

Gray was awarded the industry’s highest national safety honor from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), the leading association for the construction industry in the U.S. Gray received the 2014 “Best of the Best” Grand Award after also bringing home the first place honor in the 500,000+ construction management hours worked division.

It’s not about programs, procedures or policies. It’s about making the conscious decision to be safe.

Jim Grant, Vice President of Safety & Field Operations
2014 AGC “Best of the Best” Grand Award

2015

In the 2010s, Gray developed a specialized focus on the Food & Beverage industry. Having completed project for customers like Clemens Food Group, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, Yamasa, Tyson Foods, Nestlé Waters, and Pepsi Bottling Group, Gray became highly specialized in this dynamic market.

2016

On November 3, 2016, the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) presented Gray with two national awards for Champion Petfoods’ DogStar Kitchens.

The Champion Petfoods project has been exciting from day one based on our strong relationship with Champion, the way the team came together to ensure success, and the innovation that was developed and integrated specifically for this project.

Stephen Gray
Champion’s 371,000 s.f. DogStar Kitchen was designed, constructed, and commissioned in just 14 months – from 0% design to 100% test runs of their new recipes.

2017

Gray announced the acquisition of Spencer Bristol Engineering, a consulting design engineering firm based in Georgia.

Stephen Gray appeared on CNBC Power Lunch to talk tax reform.

2018

Early in 2018, Gray announced the addition of Gray Solutions, a full-service Automation, Operations, and Information Systems Integrator with a heavy Food & Beverage focus. Then, in May of 2018, Gray additionally announced the acquisition of InLine Engineers, an engineering and design solutions firm also in the Food & Beverage sector.

Gray Solutions team members played a vital role on the Champion Petfoods Dogstar Kitchens project.
InLine Engineers brings high-volume production expertise.

Two Gray projects were honored with prestigious awards in 2018! The new fresh pork processing facility for Clemens Food Group in Coldwater, MI was named a winner in ProFood World magazine’s 2018 Manufacturing Innovation Awards. Also, Kraft Heinz’s new factory in Davenport, IA was named Food Engineering magazine’s 2018 Plant of the Year!

Clemens Food Group in Coldwter, MI.
Kraft Heinz in Davenport, IA.

Gray announces the acquisition of Willett Engineering Company, a structural engineering firm, into the Gray family of brands.

All of us at Willett are thrilled to be part of the Gray family. We look forward to working with all the Gray companies, and their valued structural engineering partners, to build stronger, integrated skill sets for all of our customers.

J. Mac Willett, P.E.
President & Principal Engineer Mac Willett

2019

Gray announced the acquisition of Spec Engineering, a specialty process engineering and equipment fabrication company, located in Plainfield, IL, to further bolster each company’s position in the Food & Beverage market.

Gray leadership celebrates with Spec Engineering in Plainfield, IL.

Gray proudly announced that two of its team members were named to Constructech magazine’s 2019 Women in Construction list. Allison Lewis, pre-construction research specialist, and Valan Daniel, BIM/VDC specialist, were recognized for leveraging tech in construction.

The Women in Construction are true examples of stalwartness in an industry that is primarily dominated by men.

Peggy Smedley, editorial director of Constructech magazine and president of Specialty Publishing Media
Constructech Women in Construction award recipients

2020s

2020

Gray broke ground with Publix Super Markets, Inc. on the company’s new refrigerated distribution center in Greensboro, North Carolina.