A half century ago, Bill Headley created a successful construction company that has had an enduring impact on Newnan, Coweta County and beyond.
Early career experience with a large national developer fueled Headley’s desire to become a developer himself and build a better world for others. Creating a construction company gave him an opportunity to do both. Reflecting on why he chose Newnan to base his business, Bill always says the same thing: “This community is a great place to raise a family.”
So, in 1971, Bill Headley created Headley Construction and moved his wife, Anita, and their (then) three sons from the hustle and bustle of New York to Jackson Street in Newnan. After getting his business established, Bill bought and renovated an old warehouse building in historic downtown, the former home of the Southern Cotton Seed Oil Mill. This building still serves as Headley Construction’s office today. In late 1973, Jim Rogers joined the company after serving in the Navy. Jim would later become President of Headley Construction while preparing Bill’s son, Mitch, to take over the business.
From left, Christopher Gilliam, Mitch Headley, Bill Headley and Luke Headley walk by Karvela’s Pizza, Hair Society of Newnan, the Carnegie Library, and Newnan’s oldest loft apartments, which were renovated by Headley Construction. Photo by Jill Whitley.
Bill loves old buildings, especially historic structures and old mills. Several years after building Newnan’s Fire Station No. 1, Bill bought the old fire station building that had been converted to retail spaces. He added residences above, which became the first loft apartments in Newnan.
He later bought the old Newnan Cotton Mill and, with a development partner, created the Newnan Loft Apartments. At the time, the City of Newnan did not allow for such use, requiring close collaboration with city officials on recrafting local zoning ordinances. It took several years for Bill’s dream to become reality. Eventually, Newnan Lofts became the first Mixed-Use Development in Newnan.
Mitch started working for the family construction business when he was in seventh grade. His first jobs were cutting the grass around the warehouse and cleaning historic bricks for reuse. He continued to work for Headley Construction most summers until he graduated from Georgia Tech in 1987 with a Bachelor's Degree of Civil Engineering. After gaining design experience with Jordan, Jones & Goulding, an Atlanta-based engineering firm, Mitch obtained his Professional Engineer registration. Shortly after, he came back to work for Headley Construction in January 1994.
The commercial construction industry was slow at that time, and Bill was hesitant to hire Mitch because, as he plainly put it, “I just couldn’t afford to pay him a fair salary.” Inspired by his lifelong passion for his family business, Mitch took the job anyway.
Mitch was a dedicated superintendent on several projects, living in a tiny travel trailer on various job sites and even residing in a makeshift apartment built within the Headley Construction offices. In 1997, Bill ‘retired’ and Mitch took on a project manager role as Vice President under Jim Rogers. In January 2006, Mitch took over as President of the company.
Bill Headley officially retired in 1997, but his vision and attention to detail continue to shape Headley Construction’s approach to general contracting, design-build, and renovation projects. Photo by Sarah Fay Campbell.
Despite success, challenges abound
Even with its success over the past 50 years, Headley Construction’s legacy of achievement does not guarantee future success. The company is not immune to business challenges, having faced them repeatedly. Headley Construction’s past success and its future are tied to the ability to manage through difficult business environments. “Throughout our history, we’ve seen ups and downs in the construction industry, often driven by factors that we cannot control,” says Mitch.
For instance, after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, the economy faced another slowdown which significantly impacted commercial construction. During that time, Mitch began to take a leadership role in the company and was faced with the challenge of finding work.
“SPLOST programs were already approved in counties in the metro area, so they were still building,” explains Mitch. “We decided to pursue these smaller government projects and were quite successful.”
The Georgia Tech graduate is very detailed and especially talented at estimating a set of documents, which has led to consistent financial success for Headley Construction’s projects and clients. Mitch realized that he didn’t need to continue spending money on commercial marketing and advertising because public jobs are available to all qualified bidders. This change in business strategy molded Headley Construction into what the company is today: a midsize government project builder with remarkable strength in renovation work.
“We still build for private clients in the Newnan, Coweta County area, but our bread-and-butter jobs are competitively bid government projects,” said Mitch. “We build fire stations, senior centers, school additions and renovations, gymnasiums, and even public pickleball and tennis courts.”
Headley Construction is a longtime member and supporter of the work done by the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis. Bill Headley, pictured here with his son, Mitch, and wife, Anita, was recognized as the Coweta County Citizen of the Year by the Kiwanis Club in 2005. Photo courtesy of Headley Construction.
With literally hundreds of projects completed over the years, Mitch says it is difficult to name favorites. All had unique challenges. Each was important to the client and the community. But three of Headley Construction’s projects really stand out.
“Newnan Lofts is a signature project that enabled the preservation of a building that has real historic value,” says Mitch, who worked as project manager on the development. “My dad bought the Newnan Cotton Mill with the vision of people living and working within the same development.” The project is especially important because it was Newnan’s first mixed use development.
“Good things happen when we combine higher-density housing with commercial storefronts where people can walk or bike to work, eat and shop,” says Mitch.
Headley Construction’s most significant government project is the rehabilitation of the Historic Coweta County Courthouse, completed in 2010 and now home to the Coweta County Probate Court and Coweta County’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. To restore Newnan’s crown jewel to its original splendor, SPLOST funds were used at the courthouse where, in the late 1940s, the true story of “Murder in Coweta County” unfolded.
Mitch remembers the book as required reading when he was a student at Newnan High School and credits the book and the 1983 movie with bringing the courtroom to life for him. Years later, Headley Construction’s work on the courthouse’s iconic copper dome and historic interior was selected for an Excellence in Restoration Award by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
Most recently, Headley Construction completed the dramatic addition and renovation of Central Baptist Church in downtown Newnan. “Thanks to the creativity of the church committee members, and Houser Walker Architecture, the addition ties in with the historic building as if it had been there forever,” says Mitch.
“And because I was raised in the church, and many of my family and friends are members, the project is special. To have been selected as the general contractor for this project was especially meaningful to me.”
The key to Headley Construction’s success is having the right people in place, especially during the hard times. Mitch attributes the company’s outstanding employee retention and project success rates to treating employees like family, which he considers critical to any family-owned business.
Over the decades, Bill used his own development projects to keep the Headley Construction team productive during slow economic times. And today, Mitch prioritizes hiring technically proficient talent to accurately estimate building costs in order to keep Headley Construction extremely competitive. While the employees are like family, Mitch credits his wife of 24 years, Margaret, with providing much-needed support at home while caring for their four children so that he could work the hours required to build the business.
“Although everyone in this company may not have the Headley name, we are all part of the Headley family.”
These days, Mitch’s right-hand man, Christopher Gilliam, is taking a leadership role in the company. A fellow Yellow Jacket, Christopher has a Master of Science degree in Building Construction from Georgia Tech. As Vice President of the company, he oversees day-to-day construction operations and is involved in strategic planning, business development, estimating, and project management supervision.
Christopher is quick to tell architects, subcontractors and new hires alike, “Although everyone in this company may not have the Headley name, we are all part of the Headley family.”
An active past President of Newnan Kiwanis Club and a board member at Christian City, Christopher understands that belonging to a community creates a responsibility to serve that community.
“Caring for people and community is our priority.”
When Central Baptist Church planned a major expansion and renovation of its facilities, Headley Construction was proud to help both preserve and grow the historic campus to be more parishioner and pedestrian-friendly. The addition of a large public parking lot increases connectivity not just for the church but for the entire City of Newnan. Photo by Clay Neely.
A FRAMEWORK FOR THE FUTURE
From giving back to local communities through careful stewardship and expert management of government-funded projects to advancing mixed-use developments with respectful rezoning that honors historic structures, Headley Construction’s leaders are excited to continue their founder’s mission of building a better world.
Mitch Headley is optimistic about the future of development around Newnan. “As our community continues to grow, we look forward to having LINC right outside our office door,” he said. “I hope to work with the city to redevelop our downtown site to bring more live/work options to Newnan.”
By Neil Monroe for Newnan Coweta Magazine