Robertson & Olson keeps things local

Matt Olson credits investment in people, community for company’s success in regional building projects

Robertson & Olson
Courtesy of Robertson & Olson

Robertson & Olson (R&O) is licensed in most states west of the Mississippi and they are currently involved in Washington, Oregon, Northern California and Nevada building projects, but their favorite “child,” arguably, is Vancouver.

Matt Olson, president of R&O, is hometown proud. Having grown up in Hockinson and attended schools in Battle Ground and Brush Prairie, Olson continues to reside locally and the opportunity to be a part of such landmark changes in his own backyard is gratifying and something his company has positioned itself for.

“To be able to build large portions of Vancouver and, historically, be able to tell people how involved we were is exciting,” Olson said. “When we have meetings and look back three or four years when we were prepping for this opportunity and see it all come together, it’s rewarding.”

As a Camas-based general contractor, R&O is a big part of the flurry of building activity happening in downtown Vancouver, including the Uptown Apartments and the Vancouver Waterfront project. Rewind a few years to when the city was coming out of the 2008 recession, Olson and his team had fostered relationships even when some businesses had a bleak view of the future. That investment into people and community is what Olson credits for where they are now.

“The company saw the beginnings of big ideas and we prepared ourselves with resources that could help us grow as a company and be involved in larger projects,” Olson said.

One of those relationships was Gramor Development, so it was no surprise when Gramor named R&O as general contractor of the Vancouver Waterfront development – a project literally poised to change the entire landscape of downtown Vancouver.

“Gramor Development has worked with Matt Olson of Robertson & Olson Construction (R&O) for almost 25 years, mostly on neighborhood retail centers,” said Dean Sorenson, vice president and director of construction for Gramor. “The experience of Matt’s team and the great relationship we have with R&O brought us to the decision to bring them to the Waterfront project.”

It is the aim of Gramor as well as R&O to hire local subcontractors. Olson shared that, in addition to the approximately 100 people directly employed by R&O, there are 300 to 400 people on their projects at all times and the skilled tradesmen are largely local to whatever city they are working in.

For the Waterfront project, R&O dug into the infrastructure they’d been strategically developing to bring forth two tower cranes. These hard-working, fixed cranes are common place in Portland but not so in Clark County. One had actually been utilized for the Uptown Apartments but will now join the Waterfront crane for the next year and a half to reduce the time and labor required to move steel I beams, rebar and other heavy construction material. Supplementing the tower cranes will be mobile cranes, necessary to juggle the well-choreographed dance of up to 10 subcontractors a day, each responsible for their own piece of a much bigger picture.

With phase one street improvements and utilities completed, R&O’s current Waterfront focus has been five blocks including Block 9, a predominantly restaurant building, which Olson said is the most unique building that R&O has ever worked on; Block 12 with high-end exterior and interior finishes; the excavation of Block 6 for two levels of parking as well as the seven-story office building and apartment units; and Block 8 with its basement parking, apartment and retail space. To keep the timeline sequential, R&O is also tasked with hardscape and roadwork of some of the blocks.

R&O was started by Don Robertson (now retired) and Olson back in 1994, after years laboring separately within the community. Their relationship-centric work ethic has allowed them to focus on mainly repeat business with local developers.

“It’s a grueling industry. It’s a grind and if you don’t love it, you’re not going to succeed and be happy in your work,” Olson said. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the people that work with our company and our success is because of them.”