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Reeves and Williams slow it down as company picks up pace

SOUTHAVEN — Mississippi’s top homebuilders are slowing down, but the business they founded 35 years ago is doing just the opposite — picking up the pace at a phenomenal speed.

Reeves Williams Builders, which has dominated the state’s homebuilding business for the past several years, has already closed over 300 houses this year with a goal of 750 by year’s end. Right now, the company is building 21 neighborhoods in Mississippi and in Tennessee around Memphis. The company builds in Southaven, Olive Branch, Horn Lake, Batesville, Senatobia, Tunica and the Memphis area.

The company was founded in 1967 by college friends Jon Reeves and Bob Williams, who found themselves in the right place at the right time, and gradually built the business up into a multi-million dollar company. Two years ago they decided to slow down, although they had no intentions of closing the company. They shopped the business around and found four suitors. They eventually chose Kalian Cos. of Red Bank, N.J., but not before they were assured that no employees would lose their jobs. Clay Lane moved in as the new president and CEO, and Reeves and Williams became senior vice presidents.

“They built a strong, sturdy business in the marketplace and their relationships and willingness to stay with the business made it an easy decision,” said Lane. “We courted Jon and Bob for a long, long time, and we got to be friends. They had to trust us that all the employees would remain, and we wouldn’t take advantage of something they had spent 35 years building.”

Kalian promised to double sales at Reeves Williams, and they have done that. The company went from building about 340 houses a year to double that this year. The number of employees has likewise doubled from 100 to 200.

Reeves and Williams started their business in a Southaven very different from today. The town’s only gas station was at the intersection of Goodman Road and I-55, which is now one of the state’s busiest streets with nine lanes where it crosses over the interstate. Their office was on Stateline Road, back when that road was two lanes of gravel.

“We were happy when they black-topped it,” said Reeves.

Reeves and Williams met as freshmen at the University of Mississippi back in the 1950s. Reeves, a Yazoo County native, was there on a football scholarship; Williams, who grew up in a suburb outside Memphis, was at Ole Miss on a basketball scholarship. After graduation, they entered the Army and were stationed together for a portion of their service.

After they got out of the Army, Reeves talked Williams into taking jobs with Allied Investment Co., a mortgage/development company started by Kemmons Wilson and Wallace Johnson, founders of Holiday Inn. After a few years of working in Southaven for Allied, they decided they were ready to venture off on their own and founded Reeves Williams, not realizing they had settled in what would become a homebuilding mecca.

For the first 20 years they owned Reeves Williams, DeSoto County was a bedroom community of Memphis — people worked and shopped in Memphis, then came home to DeSoto. That changed as the county has grown by leaps and bounds in commercial and industrial, and as Memphis has run out of room for new homes. Memphis can’t grow any further west because of the Mississippi River, and the northern part is largely industrial. That leaves east Memphis and southward into DeSoto County.

Reeves Williams builds homes from $90,000 all the way up $250,000, but their average house is $130,000.

There is still a lot of land left to be developed in DeSoto County, but according to Williams, it’s getting harder to find good tracts of land. It’s also more difficult to obtain zoning to build affordable houses under $150,000.

“That’s where your schoolteachers, firemen, policemen, young people live,” said Williams, who is a crusader for affordable housing. “Everybody wants big houses, but that’s not the demand.”

Reeves and Williams have made lasting marks on the DeSoto County community and the state’s building industry. Reeves was recently inducted into the Mississippi Housing Hall of Fame by the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi (HBAM). Williams was inducted in 1991, one of the first members to be inducted.

Only 20 people out of the association’s 3,600 members are hall of famers. The association opens nominations each year to builders, developers, government and housing-related professions like architects, but winners aren’t selected every year.

“This is the highest honor given by the association,” said Kristy Johnson of HBAM. “Both men have made lasting contributions to the building industry in Mississippi.”

Reeves also recently received the Paul Harris Fellow Award from the Southaven Rotary Club. Williams, a longtime member, has also been honored by the Rotary Club. Although he is a Memphis resident, he considers himself a North Mississippian. He is a charter member of the local chamber, the Rotary Club, the DeSoto Council and the North Mississippi Homebuilders Association, where he still sits on the board of directors. This summer, he ended a nine-year term as a member of the board of trustees of the Builders and Contractors Associations of Mississippi (BCAM) Self Insurers Fund.

Reeves and Williams donated 125 acres of land to Southaven to build a city park. The city spent over $1 million to build Central Park, which has walking trails, lakes and picnic areas.

Looking back to the early days, both say they had no idea that DeSoto County would become the thriving, growing community it is today.

“We didn’t take advantage of a lot of the speculative stuff,” said Reeves. “It just happened so fast.”

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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