Chesterfield County-based NCI Inc. completed building its first solar farm on a landfill at Fort Campbell, Ky., last month.
The 4.7-megawatt, 26-acre solar farm was a project originated by the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We have done rooftop installations and solar electric upgrades, but this was the first time building a solar farm,” said Will Massey, who became an NCI co-owner in April. “We used 16,000 LG Electronics solar panels.”
The general contracting firm, founded as Northeast Construction Inc. by co-owner David Cheon in 1996, began offering renewable energy solutions in 2009. Cheon, who moved to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea, in 1992, traveled back to South Korea to receive solar training from LG Electronics before submitting bid proposals to government agencies.
“Our first solar job was in 2010 for the Washington, D.C., public school system,” Cheon said.
The company installed solar panels on the rooftop at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Center in Arlington County in 2011 and is currently partnering with the center to study solar energy efficiency.
NCI also is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “upgrade military solar systems all over the country for them,” Massey said.
The company got its first big break in 1997 when Henrico County-based Eagle Construction gave the company the opportunity to step in as a subcontractor to provide roofing and siding services in two of its neighborhoods.
“They are still our customers today,” Cheon said.
Bud Ohly, former president of Eagle Construction who is now an independent consultant in Williamsburg, considered NCI to be one of the “most dependable subcontractors we had,” he said. “They were very accommodating, ready to scale up to a big job but also able to take care of our normal, everyday needs.”
NCI is driven by its relationships with customers, he added.
“People talk about that, but it’s not just a cliché at NCI. It’s what has driven NCI for a long time,” Ohly said.
Cheon started NCI in Fairfax after working part time at construction sites and becoming interested in construction. He moved the company to the Richmond area in 1996 because he saw “great potential in Richmond,” he said.
The company specializes in providing roofing and siding services; renovation of commercial, institutional and government entities; and renewable energy solutions.
It opened a branch office in Fairfax in 2005. “There is a lot of demand there,” Cheon said. “We do mostly federal government contractor and renewable energy work at that office.”
In 2007, it opened a small branch office in Hampton that handles “mostly multifamily residential work,” Cheon said.
Most of the company’s customers are in Virginia, but its solar work with the military is nationwide.
“We’re doing a lot of work in the Mid-Atlantic in southern Maryland and Virginia,” Massey said. “We have new growth opportunities out of the state that are mostly federal government work.”
Derek Cha, owner of the Zzaam! Korean restaurant in Richmond and founder of Sweet Frog, enjoys having NCI do work at his restaurant.
“They are very organized. They finished the job on time and in budget,” he said. “They are great people to work with.”
NCI’s work is split equally between private sector and government projects. Year to date, the company’s revenue has grown 30 percent over the same period in 2016.
“We’ve seen the most growth in our solar division currently based on new contracts with the government,” Massey said.
Last year, the company created a storm restoration division that also is in growth mode. “We have had two big hail events in Richmond, and that was a boon for our business that we didn’t expect,” Massey said. “We are now busy repairing the hail damage.”
NCI helps clients navigate their insurance claims and also does the repair/replacement of the shingles for both residential and commercial properties.
“Asphalt shingles get damaged by hail and wind speed,” Massey said.
Jimmy Rhee, a former assistant secretary of commerce and trade for the state of Virginia who is now special secretary of Small, Minority and Women Business Affairs in Maryland, first met with NCI eight years ago.
“What was unique about them is that the owner had a vision that was different from other business owners,” he said. “He put a lot of effort into improving his competency, and he understood capital issues and resources. He was a complete businessman from Day One.”