By Lyra Bordelon
As development continues in downtown Ronceverte, one hidden business offers a model for the city’s possibilities – Architectural Wood, LLC. Located on Edgar Avenue, the ten-year-old business tackles million-dollar woodworking projects and employs over 40 people.
Two of the business’s guiding partners, Carol Oosterbeek and Patrick Driscoll, reflected on what it took to build the downtown business over the last ten years and how the only way to improve the city is to take it step by step.
“This is not an overnight thing for us where we came in here and the next day it looked like this,” said Driscoll. “You have to believe in what your future can be, then it takes time for it to become a realization. It’s how much effort you can put into it. … The same thing can happen for the town.”
Oosterbeck is originally from South Africa, and just recently earned her citizenship in the United States. She moved to West Virginia from New Jersey over ten years ago with her husband, Tony Oosterbeek. Shortly after, both joined Driscool, who was excited to remain in-state for the outdoor activity possibilities and opportunities for his then five-year-old daughter.
Oosterbeek has an obvious love of design – when entering their conference room, the smallest question had her jumping into an explanation of how their conference table was designed. The table’s corners were replaced by another edge, turning the rectangle into a hexagon. Oosterbeek explained this allows people to see each other easier, allows for more of the table to be used, and provides more comfort.
“If you have [someone] who’s very large, they don’t feel confined,” Oosterbeek said. “They can relax. … [They] don’t feel crowded and it allows you to use all the corners this way. That’s why I do that. … When you’re having a meeting you don’t want people to feel uncomfortable, you want people to feel relaxed, so that was my whole purpose. … It mimics the black metal on all our stand up desks, plus the walnut. Patrick and I chose these veneers. I think it was really worth it.”
Getting to this point has been a ten-year process for the partners – one that began with a walk through by the West Virginia Manufacturing Extension, which provided them with a list of improvements to make to the building.
“The nice part about it is [the employees and partners] got to see all the changes on a gradual basis,” Oosterbeek said. “… We had this assessment and we took it seriously. We checked a box off, we went to the next on, we checked a box off, we went to the next one.”
This includes upgrades for the warehouse, lighting, machining, break room, and the office.
“We couldn’t do everything overnight, but they saw these little things happening,” Oosterbeek said. “It could be funny, [many employees] were so accustomed to older equipment, older technology. … And now, if you were going to go back, [they would say] ‘what do you mean, we can’t go back!’”
The striking office also serves to inform potential clients of the company’s abilities.
“If we want to bring clients in here and we have the old oak and the green carpeting, it’s very difficult to explain [that] we can design anything and make anything,” Oosterbeek said. “But when you walk someone in here and they see this, you don’t have to explain yourself too much. You’ve already got their attention. … We need it to be [impressive] when we bring architects and [general contractors] in here. We want them to feel ‘Wow!’”
Many of the improvements were made in-house.
“My millwork guys, everybody touched everything in this building,” Oosterbeek said. “There is nobody in this company that didn’t touch something here and that was the nice part of that. When everyone walks through here, they feel some ownership. … Whether they painted, spackled, cleaned, everybody has touched it.”
The office is just one job the crews have tackled – Driscoll explained the company focuses on custom mill work, which can vary in size and scope, and case work, such as custom cabinets.
“In our industry, most people will concentrate on one thing and one thing only,” Driscoll said. “We chose to go a little outside the box and we [decided our] package would include glass, fabric, counters, quartz, it didn’t matter. If it integrated will our mill work or our case work, we took it on. Problem with that is you have to pay deposits up front.”
Oosterbeek and Driscoll both emphasized the role of a number of governmental and developmental organizations as the business began.
“We had the EDC, the EDA, [they] were huge to the success of this company, not only from a monetary sense, but just their guidance, their support,” Oosterbeek said. “… They were always checking up and making sure ‘You guys need anything?’ The support we got from the state of West Virginia, I can’t even express how enormous it was. Because of that, we fought hard to be a success. … We came in and I really wanted to fly under the radar for a lot of different reasons. We wanted to establish ourselves. … That’s very difficult. You’ve got money coming in, sometimes, you can’t bank on it, but money going out? It’s gotta go. In the early years, that was extremely hard.”
This support helped the company expand to over 40 employees and move up from $10,000 jobs to over $1 million contracts. One job featured on the website is the Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall is located in UMBC’s Performing Arts and Humanities Building.
“[The building] is the designated concert hall for the university’s symphony orchestra and other performing ensembles,” reads the website. “In addition to the engineering and fabrication of the woodwork in the concert hall, other project work includes maple paneling seen throughout the concourse, the corridors and ensemble practice rooms, as well as casework, display cases, wood benches and wood rail caps.”
The goal of the development organizations is to facilitate local job creation – Oosterbeek said that is just what they allowed Architectural Wood to do.
“The people here didn’t want to leave,” Oosterbeek said. “Why would they? We have clients that come down here and they say ‘we didn’t realize this [was here].’ They love Lewisburg, they love that quaint town, … as opposed to the hustle and bustle of D.C. It has so many pluses.”
This includes speaking with teachers and counselors at Greenbrier County schools, working with engineering teachers, and providing internships for jobs all over the company.
“There was an intern we had, who came in every year for three years,” Oosterbeek said. “Great kid, everybody loved him. Went off to college, WVU, went to work for a couple of different people, then showed up at my office one day and said ‘I just can’t work for anyone else but you.’ … I hired him on the spot, he joined us about a week later and we’re very happy about that.”
In sponsoring local sports teams in Ronceverte and Quinwood, creating internships, and communicating with schools, Driscoll hopes the business will allow more Greenbrier County youth to stay in the area.
“I know we’re missing the boat on a lot of opportunities as far as having skilled employees for the future because they don’t know what’s in this building [and many leave the state],” Driscoll said. “It really takes the right person to come in here, and the counselors are the kind of person that doesn’t change from year to year. … The potential people have here – if you give people a chance to prove themselves, they really just want to have stability in their lives and a future to look forward to.”
“You can’t do it alone. That’s really what it’s all about. We were very up front with our staff. We explained we were gonna check a box off at a time and they knew exactly who helped us get here. Patrick and I are not wealthy, it’s not like we have deep pockets, but we weren’t afraid of hard work.”