Russell builds with a new generation at the helm

A chunk of concrete with three small hand impressions has followed Jim Russell along with his construction company’s various office moves since his earlier years in downtown Bettendorf. 

This block, located outside Russell headquarters, has the handprints and initials of Jim Russell’s three children. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

Part of the landscape outside his new Davenport headquarters, the block is a cherished keepsake of a proud dad whose then three small children made their mark in wet cement in 1996. But in many ways, the block also reflects how he, his children and the company that bears their name have grown over the years. Pint-sized hands have matured and grown strong much like Russell Construction & Development. 

In fact, two now are in the family business including Mr. Russell’s eldest daughter Caitlin Russell and his son Sam Russell. Ms. Russell, who joined the company more than a decade ago, was promoted in November to company president of the now branded Russell. 

Ms. Russell is a graduate of Arizona State University with a bachelor’s of science degree in construction management and earned her MBA from the University of Iowa – Tippie College of Business. The wife and mother of four, all under age 5, also holds an Iowa Real Estate Broker license and is an accredited Certified Commercial Investment Manager (CCIM).

“I always knew I wanted to come back and be part of the business,” said Ms. Russell, who chose sunny Arizona State. “Jim told me he had icicles coming out of his nose when he walked across campus at Iowa State so that immediately eliminated Iowa State, which is a great school. We have a lot of team members from Iowa State.” But knowing her life and career would be in the Quad Cities, she thought “I might as well get away while I can.” 

Her younger brother also has a construction management degree from Arizona State. Sam Russell, 30, is Russell’s Kansas City director. Sister Kelsie (Russell) Fox lives in Geneva, Illinois, and has a career in human resources. “And we can’t convince her to come home,” Caitlin Russell, 34, said of her younger sister.

Jim Russell’s wife, Michelle, oversees Russell’s facility management team. Rounding out their family are her daughters Madie Engstrom and Gabie Hart. 

“Probably 20 years ago is about when I started to offer employees an ownership opportunity, and that was long before I knew any of my kids would be interested in the business or interested in growing in the business and taking over,” Mr. Russell said.   

Still the company’s CEO and chairman, Mr. Russell originally examined two options: either selling it to key employees or transitioning it to family members. “With my kids so young at that time, I was really working both strategies. But I’ve been very fortunate, all my kids have done super well and two of them ended up in the business and they’re both rock stars in their own way.” 

Ms. Russell, who joined the company in 2009 as a project engineer and worked up to project manager, said her new role is “what I’ve been working toward and I’m excited to continue the Russell legacy.”

Her father credits her with “driving growth and sophistication of the development side.” He added, “Caitlin, in particular, has really grown our real estate development area from an ad hoc to a core business strategy.”   

Under her leadership, the company was involved in the IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union headquarters in Moline and Jumer’s Castle Lodge redevelopment in Bettendorf. 

“Five or 10 years ago it was Russell Construction,” Mr. Russell added. “We just moved to one word: Russell, and that brand umbrellas both construction and real estate.”

While it is a construction company at its core, Ms. Russell said “With the real estate component, you get to be a part of construction but also more than construction… With real estate added on there you could provide more solutions for your client.” 

Solutions can range from constructing or leasing a building to sourcing incentives or selecting a site, she said.  

“We really go to market as a developer and a contractor instead of just Russell Construction,” Mr. Russell said.

Another emerging growth area has been developing, building and often, leasing back property to the federal government – which Russell and a partner are doing with the new federal courthouse project in downtown Rock Island. 

Ms. Russell estimates government work is about 30% of its business. “We’ve done a lot in the VA (Veterans Administration) space, that is where we started. We have started transitioning to GSA (General Services Administration) and a few other agencies in the development space. We work both directly for the government and directly for developers in that space, of which we are one.” 

She estimates that the company’s mix is about 40% development, including real estate, and 60% construction. “There’s a lot of clients out there we do pure construction for and that’s what we like and that’s where we started business,” she said. 

Russell also has been growing geographically including a 2021 merger and acquisition of the 100-year-old HBD Construction in St. Louis. Now known as Russell HBD, it employs 40 people total in the office and the field, but it likely will one day be larger – because of its population – than the Quad Cities office, Mr. Russell said. Russell employs about 90 employees in Davenport out of 250 employees.

“We just pulled the trigger on Kansas City, where my son Sam is taking a leadership role in the new startup office,” Mr. Russell said, adding “He’s a road warrior – he’s in a car and a plane a lot.” 

Another exciting project is Birchwood Fields office park, where Russell occupies what is its second headquarters building there – having leased its former headquarters to Lee Enterprises. “This was 21 acres of cornfield 17 years ago and now it’s filled with Class A office buildings and good tenants,” he added.  

But they envision a rapid pace for Birchwood South, its new mixed-use development across East 53rd Street. Russell acquired the Sofie Foster property – with a house, barn and notable “chickens for sale” sign last fall. Plans include commercial retail on the front side and townhomes by Dolan Homes on the back side.  

Russell also is meeting the demand for modern warehousing with the Russell Industrial Park along Davenport’s Northwest Boulevard. Other current projects include: North Scott YMCA in Eldridge, MidAmerican Energy’s maintenance facility near the Davenport Municipal Airport, Vibrant headquarters (former Sam’s Club in Moline), Orion Technical College (former Gander Mountain) in Davenport, Dutrac Credit Union in Bettendorf and the East Moline Library.  

Mr. Russell attributes some of its growth to partnering with other developers. 

“Construction is kind of competitive… but development is very collaborative, he said. “It’s a different mindset. So we don’t envision other developers as competitors, we consider them more partners, friends and collaborators.”  


Founded: Russell Construction was founded In 1983 by Jim Russell in Bettendorf. 

Locations: Now headquartered at 4700 E. 53rd St., Davenport, the company also has offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. 

Workforce: 250 with 90 in QC

Ownership: Family and stockholder owned. 

Projects: Russell delivered more than $1 billion in projects across 32 states. 

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