While many believe you should always look to the future, Meg Rietschlin is a firm believer of taking a peek in the rearview mirror every now and then to help guide where one is headed.
Rietschlin, the president/ chief financial officer of Rietschlin Construction Inc. in Crestline, is the 2023 OCA Chairperson. After talking with OCA’s 88th Chair, the opening words of a Trading Journal article, “The Rear-view Mirror to Future Success,” speaks volumes:
“As every good driver knows, it pays to look in your rear-view mirror(s) from time to time … This is an analogy that also applies to the world of work, especially to the learning and development sector where the pace of working life has increased appreciably – and exponentially – over the last 40 years or so.”
“I think every project has a challenge,” Rietschlin said. She thinks it’s that rearview mirror analogy where you look to the past, where there are lessons learned and you try to apply them to the next project. “It also affects your view when you’re looking at a project to bid. I think that is part of building projects and going forward.”
Rietschlin, who has been involved in the construction industry for more than 40 years, knows a thing or two (hundred) about building projects. As a veteran contractor, she knows to continue moving forward it’s good to remain optimistic. “I think contractors tend to be positive people, because you do lose a lot of bids,” she said. “When there is a bid and you don’t win, you learn to lose graciously. We learn to be very optimistic: ‘Hey, the next project is coming, we’ll go for that one.’ I think contractors possess perseverance and optimism.”
Perseverance, optimism and a heavy dose of hard work are characteristics Rietschlin has had throughout her life. Born in Louisville, Ky., she is the oldest of six children – which includes four brothers and a sister. With her father involved in manufacturing, Rietschlin lived in several areas growing up, including Ohio, before settling in Alabama.
As a child, Rietschlin remembers she and her brothers and sister spending time outdoors and visiting area landmarks. “My dad was an outdoor person, so we learned to fish, hunt and explore. My dad was also a history buff, so we would go to every single battlefield that he could find. Some more than once,” she laughed. “So, anything that was a park or a monument we went to. It was just a family thing,” Another shared trait was hard work. “… We all had to work hard on our own to get to where we wanted to go.”
Completing high school in three years, Rietschlin initially attended a college that accepted early graduates. She transferred and ultimately graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “I liked math, I liked history,” she said of her decision to major in economics – admitting to being interested at one time to work for the U.S. Federal Reserve. “Economics was the subject that clicked with me. I took the first class, and I loved it.”
Working toward her degree meant working weekdays and taking classes in the evenings and on weekends. “I worked for a company that tested coal and another that made ductile pipe and fittings. I worked a few different jobs while attending school.”
Following graduating from UAB, Meg married her husband of nearly 43 years, Nick Rietschlin, and moved to North Central Ohio, where he had a land clearing business for the area’s farmers. The Rietschlins, like others, at the time, were impacted by hard economic times. “It was in the early ’80s, inflation hit and work completely disappeared,” said Meg, who added, “I thought, there has to be a way to get through this …” She found a way by going to the library. “So, believe it or not I would go to the library and read classifieds to find the legal notices for projects out for bid. At that time, legal notices to advertise projects were printed in the local newspapers.” Rietschlin said the bidding process has become “very streamlined and economical” since, as her trips to the library were replaced with subscription services and now in 2023 there is online posting of bid opportunities, PDFs of plans and specs and online bidding.
“That started it,” she said of the founding of Rietschlin Construction, which incorporated in 1981 and began performing construction work in 1983. “It took dedication and optimism,” she said, when asked what the keys were to start a contracting company at the time. “You just have to wake up every day and go back at it. Those inflationary times (of the 1980s) came quickly, but stuck around … So, I have that memory in the rearview mirror. I thought the inflationary times could return. I’ve been cautious about finances and picking projects and managing risk …”
Today, Rietschlin Construction’s services include bridge, culvert and road construction, earth retaining structures, deep foundations, water line, fire main, storm line and sanitary sewer installation, erosion control, slope repairs and grading and agricultural concrete structures and drainage.
“We have never targeted one aspect of work,” said Rietschlin, who has served as company president since 1986. “… Some of our types of work opportunities dried up in our area, so our progression of skills broadened the type of work we could perform.”
Taking the company’s skillset and utilizing it culminated for Rietschlin Construction during another difficult time – COVID. At the outbreak of the pandemic, the company was constructing a pedestrian tunnel below a main thoroughfare of the Ohio University campus in Athens. “It was a very compressed area; it was in the middle of a university in the middle of a town, which was started at the brink of COVID …” Rietschlin recalls of the 2020 project. “It took a lot more navigation and negotiation to keep all of the project flowing, but in the end it’s a project that I can speak for all of us that we are proud to have built.” The Richland Avenue Pedestrian Tunnel (pictured above) won a Project of the Year award from the Central Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Highway Engineers and was the 2022 OCA Estimating Competition’s featured project.
Rietschlin Construction, which has been at its Baker Road location outside Crestline since 1992, has eight year-round employees, which includes four sons. Each of the sons, Ben, Pete, Chris and Ted, work in the field and bring different training and skills to the company. Meg and Nick’s daughter, Theresa, lives in Central Ohio and is a Design Director for Hollister. Each of the Rietschlin children grew up in the construction industry – as it began as they were infants. Meg would take the little ones to bid openings, to pick up plans and specs for projects and attend pre bid meetings. “I would bribe the kids to behave with the promise of a Happy Meal or new matchbox toy,” she smiled.
It was at a bid opening where she learned about OCA from a competing contracting company, and in 2005, Rietschlin Construction joined the association. Except for a few forecast nights through the North Central Ohio Chapter, Rietschlin said her participation in OCA was limited until receiving a call about the forming of the association’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Committee in 2010. “(OCA President) Chris Runyan called me up and asked if I would like to be on the DBE Committee. I didn’t know what the DBE Committee was, or really even what a DBE was … I was completely puzzled for the first year,” she admitted. “A fellow DBE contractor one day mentioned that I should consider applying. He said supportive services were available to help with training, software and education. I became certified and applied for supportive services to purchase HCSS estimating software and the in-person training to install and learn the basics. The software was a game-changer.”
As she attended more OCA committee events, Rietschlin became more involved in the association. Along with serving on the DBE Committee, Meg has worked with the Heavy Highway Specification Committee’s Fuel Adjustment Subcommittee and attended legislative events, such as the Transportation Construction Coalition Washington D.C. Fly-in. Rietschlin has served on the OCA Board of Directors for six years and is in her fourth year on the OCA Executive Committee.
She wears many hats while managing a small construction company. In an industry where midsize contractors do hundreds of millions of dollars of work, being small can be a challenge she admits, and relies on the benefits that OCA provides.
“I don’t think we could do ODOT work without being an OCA member,” admitted Rietschlin, as she listed the advantages belonging to the association, such as staff members’ industry knowledge, newsletters, meetings, training classes, events and conversing with OCA members and contractors. “It’s just invaluable … I could make a long list of positives for you.” She also has enjoyed meeting many interesting and amazing people through OCA.
“I believe we work hard for the people that we love and cherish,” said Meg, who is the proud wife to Nick, mother of five children and grandmother of nine grandchildren – Logan, Wyatt, Eva, Jack, Henry, Violet, Declan, Summer and Emma. “I also have four wonderful daughters-in-law and son-in-law. I really enjoy our large, noisy family gatherings with everyone eating and talking and having fun.”
Also, among her life’s enjoyments is spending time with a group of friends and fellow flutists. “We get together about twice a month and play ensemble music for fun and relaxation,” she said of the nine musicians who perform as The Trillium Flute Choir. When it comes to music, Rietschlin said she “enjoys the reset that music brings” to her life, adding, “When the days are crazy, music restores calm.”
Looking at the year ahead, Rietschlin believes the economy may present challenges not seen in years. “I think we’ve got some scary economic times ahead of us with the interest rates,” she said. This foreshadowing has her looking at the past – such as the early 1980s when Rietschlin Construction was navigating the rough waters of a young company, and more recently in the early 2000s – to help guide the future. “I think being proactive is being careful … It’s managing things so we are in the game next year, and the year after and the year after.”
While economic challenges may lie ahead, Rietschlin is looking at several positives during her year as OCA Chair – noting the influx of federal transportation funding from the Infrastructure Investments & Jobs Act (IIJA) and what it means to ODOT’s biennial budget that was being hammered out in the statehouse.
This year, Rietschlin would also like to highlight the many opportunities available in heavy/highway construction to attract people into the industry as well as give field crews the recognition they deserve. “I would like to see the people that build our projects get the credit they deserve,” she said. “They work long hours in all kinds of weather conditions, pressures put on them, and I think we need to acknowledge the talents and the skills of the people that build our infrastructure.
“… I think the biggest message is that there are careers in the heavy/highway industry. Whether it’s working in the field, working in engineering, working in accounting, working for suppliers, or working on the owners’ side. As an association, we need to make sure the public knows the many opportunities there are in construction.”