A hands-on start led to success for one of Salem’s major builders

Rich Duncan, president of Rich Duncan Construction, on site at his company’s rebuild of the Oregon School for the Deaf in 2010. The company was recently named the Salem Chamber of Commerce’s business of the year (Courtesy photo)

Rich Duncan is working at the 30,000 foot-level these days, but it hasn’t always been that way. 

The Salem native and owner of Rich Duncan Construction spent 20 years with his boots on the ground. 

“I used to keep a change of clothes in the truck,” he said. “I’d work a job then change my clothes to go bid a job, change and go back to work and then change for a Chamber meeting.”

Now, he has more than one truck with his name on the side of it, going from a one employee operation to employing 38 people and specializing in commercial projects. Last month, the company won business of the year from the Salem Chamber of Commerce. 

“It was a surprise and we were pretty honored,” Duncan said of the award his company also took home in 2008 and 2011. “A lot of other businesses are working hard and we’re just very appreciative.”

“Rich Duncan Construction’s extensive experience in all facets of construction and outstanding performance in project completion make it uniquely qualified to handle all building needs regardless of size or scope,” said Tom Hoffert, Salem Chamber CEO in awarding the company at the Salem Chamber banquet in June. 

“Even if you haven’t partnered with Duncan you have seen their work and benefited from their impact on the community,” he added.

Duncan grew up in Salem, graduating from Sprague High School. At the urging of family and friends, the teen who had a knack for building things, enrolled in a two-year building construction course at Portland Community College. 

“There was a marriage and then a kid so I started framing and have been working ever since,” Duncan said. 

Duncan started his own company in 2002 and since then has completed countless projects around Salem, the state and region. But he can’t name which one came first.

“Oh, boy,” he said. “I had a handful back in the day. There were office remodels and expansions. I don’t know if there’s one that pops out and says that it was my first dollar.”

Duncan has turned a profit building just about everything from the Chick-fil-A in Keizer to the Park Front building in Salem to over 250 McDonald’s restaurants between Oregon and Washington. 

But those dollars flow back into the community too.

Rich Duncan of Rich Duncan Construction addresses the crowd at the groundbreaking on March 20, 2021, for the Detroit Community Center. A coalition of contractors and suppliers is donating the work to replace the Detroit City Hall. (Santiam Rebuild Coalition photo)

One of Duncan’s latest projects saw his team travel to Detroit, still burnt from the wildfires of 2020, to rebuild a community center, free of charge. It’s an example of what he says has made his business so successful: showing up to the job with the desire for the client to have the best experience possible. 

“Our team really enjoys what we do and how we do it for the community,” Duncan said. 

And the list is long. In 2010, the company helped in an extreme makeover of the Oregon School for the Deaf and regularly provides hands-on experience for students involved in the district’s career and technical education programs. 

“Whether it’s helping a church with an (American with Disabilities Act) ramp or working with Habitat for Humanity we always feel really strong about being part of the community,” Duncan said. 

It’s a community Duncan, who grew up in South Salem, has watched change and grow over the years. 

“For me, it’s a little overwhelming,” he said. “I had strong concerns about the growth of Salem and how important jobs are to Salem and a good, healthy growth of Salem and when I see that not going in the right direction it’s hard. When you’ve grown a business and you have these families you’re supporting, that’s all at risk from people on city council or school boards when you see them make bad decisions and you lose a good employee because they don’t want their kids going to school here. That’s happened twice for us.”

Duncan’s own kids went through Salem schools and now his grandkids are making their way through as well. Two of his children work with him and he says he tries to get the grandkids into the shop as often as possible too. 

He’s not on project sites as often as he was, he says. Instead, Duncan arrives to the office first, checks emails and reports and then spends the day supervising the action.

“I never thought I’d have to sit in a chair as much as I sit,” he said. “But there’s HR work and other work at this level in a company. When I started, I had my tool bags on.”

Contact reporter Caitlyn May at [email protected].

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