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Gries Architectural Group celebrates 40 years in business

The firm has done thousands of projects in the Fox Valley region

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June 1, 2023

NEENAH – When Steve Gries launched Stephen Gries Associate Architects, Inc. in 1983 after working for another architectural firm for several years, the company was a one-man show – him.

“I started the company basically by myself,” Steve, president of Gries Architectural Group, as it’s known today, said. “There were four of us in the office who were all wanting to become registered architects, so we all received our Wisconsin architectural licenses about the same time. I was doing some moonlighting, doing some residentials for different contractors, and as I was working with others at the firm, I felt like I had an opportunity to go off on my own with contractors I was doing work for.”

Eventually, Steve added to the Gries team.

“I had hired a couple of other people for drafting, so it was a meager start, eventually being built (to) what it is today,” he said.

Though he liked being out on his own, Steve said success and growth didn’t come without a few struggles.

// look at the Train Depot in Neenah – a Gries Architectural Group project – after renovation. Photo Courtesy of Gries Architectural Group

“We had kids and a family to support, too,” he said. “My wife was working for Kimberly-Clark at the time, and there were times when money was a little short. It was a trying time.”

From the beginning, Steve said he set out to “create an architectural firm based on the foundation of ethics above all and a desire to create solid and trusted partner and client relationships.”

By following these guiding principles, he said the firm’s reputation grew quickly and established many long-lasting client relationships, making Gries Architectural Group a well-respected name in Neenah and throughout the Fox Valley.

Change over time
Steve said while the industry hasn’t changed significantly since the start of his company, there has been a notable change technologically that has kept Gries Architectural Group on its toes.

“Everything was done by hand,” he said. “And there was no internet (back then), there were no cellphones and so that has changed a lot. The dynamics and the actual production of drawings were considerably different than it is today because communication was a lot slower in those days. Putting out a set of drawings was also considerably more involved because you were doing everything by hand.”

Brannin Gries, principal architect at Gries Architectural Group and Steve’s son, said the implementation of technology has definitely changed the architecture industry.

// architectural footprint of Gries Architectural Group can be found all over the region. Submitted Graphic

“Going from the days of hand drafting and trying to make changes to plans, they were all hand drafted,” he said. “It is a lot different in our digital days when now we can implement changes a lot quicker. We can show 3D graphic visualization a lot quicker to our clients to help them understand the planning sets and even coordinate with our consultants. It helps improve the coordination between all the disciplines within the design and engineering phase.”

Looking back at 40 years
As Steve reflects on four decades in business, he said it’s not so much the projects that stand out in his mind, but some of the ongoing business relationships he has developed over the years.

“Over these 40 years, there are clients we’ve had since almost day one,” he said. “And they still rely on us. One of the most notable is the Bergstrom Automotive people. We started with them in the early 90s, and we’re still doing work now. It’s amazing keeping clients for that long period of time.”

Brannin said he has also grown to enjoy the person-to-person element that comes from the sort of work Gries Architectural Group takes on.

“To echo that, as much as it is about the projects, it’s more about the clients,” he said. “Fox Communities (Credit Union) and the Boys & Girls Club, those types of projects where it’s been 25 years of working with a particular client and doing their facility, that’s special and unique because you build a good relationship and rapport with them.”

Looking forward
Steve and Brannin said they hope to continue to grow the reach and scope of Gries Architectural Group moving forward, as they’ve recently added an office in Hudson.

“We have an office that’s in a more metro area to be able to attract more talent,” Brannin said. “We have two good people who are working over there to help us expand our regional footprint.”

Brannin said he hopes the expansion Gries Architectural Group has seen over 40 years continues for another 40 years.

“We want to keep consistent growth and get ourselves situated stronger in our current project types that we do,” he said. “We’re also working on expanding our multifamily, mixed-use portfolio. We’ve seen a lot of growth in that industry and have been able to start establishing a foothold. We’re keeping strong in the existing project types we work on, but strategically picking up new project types as we can.”

Community involvement
The team at Architectural Group believes community involvement is an essential part of serving their clients and the surrounding area to the best of their abilities.

Throughout the past 40 years, the firm has supported community groups, such as the YMCA and area Boys & Girls Clubs.

In addition, many Gries employees are active members of the community – holding positions on various boards.

Brannin is on the board of directors for the Neenah-Menasha YMCA; Steve Borsecnik, senior architect, is on the board of directors for Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities, Mark Keating, senior architect, served as president of the Fox Cities Morning Club Rotary, and is currently an active board member on the Sustainable Neenah Committee; and Jodi Nelson, architect, is the AIA Wisconsin Northwest Chapter Secretary/Treasurer.

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