Founded in Family
1992 Carey Contracting family includes Mike Carey (kneeling left) Colleen Carey and Lawrence Carey (kneeling right).
In 2021, Carey Contracting will celebrate 35 years as the region’s premier trusted builder in the Central Upper Peninsula. The company’s longevity can be traced back to its deep roots in the region, along with a firm foundation built on the importance of family, skilled craftsmanship, and enduring values like service, honesty, quality, and respect. Over several decades, Carey Contracting has built and remodeled homes and businesses across the Upper Peninsula, with customers and vendors from Menomonie to Marquette and from Iron River to Escanaba. Today, with fifth-generation Yooper Luke Carey at the helm, the company employs a staff of 16 along with dozens of local sub-contractors.
The Carey family’s hard-working roots in the U.P. go back more than a century. In the early 1900s, Charles Carey Sr. was a barn builder and craftsman in Dickinson County and the surrounding areas. His son, Lawrence, became a logger, farmer, miner, and jack-of-all-trades after the Depression era. His son, Mike, followed in his footsteps and put himself through college working on trade jobs.
In 1986, Mike founded Carey Contracting. After growing a successful and respected business, he turned over the reins on January 1, 2018, when his son Luke bought the company.
Today, Luke serves as President, while Mike remains involved as VP/Head of Sales and Luke’s mother Colleen works as the Administrative Assistant. The company takes on a broad range of projects, from new homes and residential remodels, to commercial contracting for offices, restaurants, churches, schools, libraries, parks, public spaces, manufacturing companies and more.
Luke Carey originally studied to be a civil engineer, but he soon missed his days interacting with customers alongside his father. He reflects, “ I started out when I was about 12 years old, sweeping floors and carrying shingles. I enjoyed hanging out in the office and talking with the crews. Engineering wasn’t right for me — it was too solitary. I wanted to be able to work directly with people and make a visible difference in my community. That kind of work doesn’t even feel like a career to me.”
2018 Carey Contracting family includes Luke Carey (kneeling left) Colleen Carey and Mike Carey (kneeling right)
People, service, and tradition are drivers for the Carey family and their company. They thrive on the relationships they build with vendors and customers. Carey Contracting has customer relationships that have spanned three generations: the families’ grandfathers, fathers, and now sons have worked together on construction projects. Mike Carey says they have also worked with multiple generations of vendors. “It’s such an old community and we’re deeply rooted in Central U.P. When your family has been around for five generations you create relationships with your subs and vendors and neighbors — sometimes they last forever.”
Even among long-lived businesses, Carey Contracting is somewhat unique in its approach to connecting with customers. Many companies claim to be family-driven, but the Carey’s have a true history of it. One company motto is “How would you want your grandma to be treated?” Mike explains, “Anybody can be a carpenter. It’s the values that set us apart and those values come from family. These aren’t just customers, we think of them as extended family. And you treat family right.”
With 35 years under their belts, the Careys have plenty of memorable stories. They once built an Arby’s restaurant—from breaking ground to fully operational—in just 30 days. A number of times they have worked around the clock to complete a project for a business that couldn’t afford to shut down for days. They would close after Saturday dinner service for example, then the Carey crew would swoop in. They manage to keep the lumber yard open, then work in shifts around the clock, with electricians from 1:00 to 3:00 AM and plumbers from 4:00 to 6:00 AM.
A commitment to the community
Some of the most unforgettable projects weren’t the biggest or most expensive. They were the ones the company did in support of the community. Carey Contracting had an annual home project giveaway called Helping Hands. People would write letters describing what they most needed— like an extra bedroom for a special-needs child. The family would select one letter and do the work at no charge. Mike recalls, “These projects touched the heart and soul of the community. It was hard to read those letters, and even harder to choose just one.” Today, Carey crews have a standing order to help people as needed. If something needs to be done and the customer can’t afford it, the crew takes it on for free or at very low cost, if they insist on paying. Luke says, “If you see it, and they need it, you do it. It’s part of our responsibility to the community.”
Carey Contracting enjoys giving back to agencies like the Salvation Army, the Rotary Club, and Caring House, a local domestic violence shelter. Few other companies, however, go as far as the Carey family does to help others in need. Mike explains, “Our idea of community even extends to other local builders. One builder was going through a difficult time with a medical condition. We reached out and offered to carry the load for him until he could step back in. We threw him every ounce of business we possibly could to help him get back on his feet. He’s thriving now. It’s all part of keeping our community healthy.”
There have been a lot of changes in the contracting business between the time that Mike started the company and when Luke took over. In Mike’s time, a $300k project could be sealed on a handshake. He remembers, “If I could look that person in the eye and shake their hand, I knew it would go well — your word was far more valuable than paper. Of course, now, to protect the customer and the company, we have a legal document that spells out the details. Luke has moved us forward in that direction. I’m definitely more old school.”
OLD CAREY TEAM PHOTOS: Left – Carey crew ready to roll (1990’s) Right – Early Mike and Lawrence newspaper story (1980’s)
A vision for the future
Despite their different styles and approaches, the leadership transition from father to son was pretty much seamless. When Luke bought the company and took the lead, Mike stepped away for six months, to help establish his son’s authority and train the staff to turn to Luke with questions. Some of the more tenured employees took Luke under their wings and helped guide him in his new role. When Mike returned, he took an office “way in the back, almost in the warehouse” so the new company president would be front and center. Luke’s professionalism is taking the company to a new level. He has earned the respect of the banking and business communities and he’s firmly established himself.
Luke’s vision is to maintain his family’s philosophy of using their business as a tool to help the community. He notes, “I want to keep using Carey Contracting as a foundation for community development. I value our tradition of banding together with other businesses to help people in need. If you have a successful business, you have the financial strength to give back to the community. It makes our staff proud to be a part of that. Our values have continued to guide us and we look forward to serving the Iron Mountain region for long into the future.”
Mike laughs, “I remember during the Father’s Day floods over in Houghton a couple years ago, we served as a local drop point for construction donations. We took three truckloads of supplies there to help people rebuild. When we got there, a little old woman came over wanting to donate her beat-up old shovel and rake. It made her feel so good to be able to pitch in. We didn’t have the heart to tell her we had 30 brand new shovels, but it was all about the gesture and everything counts. But that’s our community. When someone needs help, you do whatever it takes.”
The Carey Family has been farming, ranching, logging and building in our region since the early 1800’s. From our earliest homestead to today’s faster paced projects, the Carey tradition of honest and hard work to deliver on every commitment run strong and deep through our family and our entire team.