Joplin's RE Smith Construction to celebrate 70th anniversary

Oct. 6—Driving past the Joplin Public Library brings a smile to Dick Smith's face.

That's because his company, RE Smith Construction, was general contractor for the building facing 20th Street that opened in 2017.

But it goes deeper than that, Dick Smith will tell you.

"I have a picture in my office of the three libraries that were built in Joplin," he said.

His father, Richard E. Smith, led the company that constructed the previous Joplin library on the site of the historic Connor Hotel in downtown Joplin in 1981.

And long before that, he said, "my great-grandfather was the foreman when the Joplin Carnegie Library was built in 1902." That building is at 830 S. Wall Ave.

It illustrates just how long the Smith family and the family-owned construction business have been reshaping Joplin.

Richard E. Smith established the company in 1952. Since then, his sons and grandsons have joined, with Dick Smith serving as president and his younger bother, Dave, serving as vice president.

"We have contributed a large number of buildings" not only to Joplin but throughout the Four-State Area, Dick Smith said, with 8,000 projects completed across eight states.

"They were small at first, but they keep getting bigger and bigger."

"It certainly is a milestone," added Dave Smith. "We're certainly proud to keep the same business open for that long and under the same name."

With 2022 marking the company's 70th anniversary, a "stop by and say hi" celebration will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the company's headquarters, 1036 W. Second St. in Joplin. Hors d'oeuvres and drinks will be provided. Numerous contractors, subcontractors, architects and customers will be in attendance, including a special guest.

"My dad, Richard E. Smith — he's still living, and he will be at the celebration as well," Dick Smith said. The company's founder is 96. "It will be a good time."

RE Smith Construction was established inside Richard E. Smith's garage, with just two people on the payroll. Early on, they built houses. They soon switched to commercial construction because of a partnership with another Joplin company, EaglePicher Technologies.

"We've done a tremendous amount of work for EaglePicher," Dick Smith said. "We're on Second Street, and their plant is on C Street. ... We were right there, and they were just over there, and that gave us one job after another, and that continued to help us move on to commercial and retail."

One of the company's most recent projects was the $20 million Lion Village, a four-story complex of dormitories on the Missouri Southern State University campus. RE Smith Construction has had a long relationship with the Joplin university, building prominent campus buildings such as the North End Zone Facility and the Beimdiek Recreation Center.

Aside from the two public libraries, the company has built in Joplin the Schifferdecker Aquatic Center, the Joplin Senior Center and several Joplin Fire Department stations. It also handled the Joplin City Hall remodel of the Newman building.

Outside Joplin, the company has built the Monett Library, the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, the Springfield/Greene County Botanical Center in Springfield and the Barry County Judicial Center in Cassville.

A lot has changed over the past 70 years when it comes to construction, Dick Smith said.

"It's just totally different — in a very good way," he said. "Technology has completely changed the industry. People used to look down their noses at construction workers — they said they couldn't do anything but dig ditches and hammer nails. Today's professional construction workers are well trained in some of the best technology in the world, using some of the best equipment in the world."

What used to take three weeks to prepare for a bid now takes three days or less, in large part because of computers.

What hasn't changed over the last 70 years, Dick Smith said, is the company's commitment to integrity, accountability, quality and honesty. He said he has no doubt RE Smith will still be piecing together complicated construction projects 70 years from now.

"The team's already in place," he said. "We're not even close to (this) being the end; we're just celebrating a milestone. Our plans are to continue to grow and continue to stay in this area."