We had the pleasure of sitting down with David Darnell, Project Manager at J2H to learn more about his career, his experience working with our cannabis clients, and what brought him to J2H. David has an incredibly diverse background from studying Business Management and Marketing at Virginia Tech to starting two (two!) different businesses. He has a great story to tell. Learn more about David below.
So let’s start at the beginning. Where did you attend college, what did you study, and what was your first job out of school?
I was a Marketing major at Virginia Tech studying Business Management and Marketing. My first job was actually my own business - I started it while I was still a senior at school. It was a pile-driving business on Lake Anna in Virginia.
Wow! You’ve got a real entrepreneurial spirit. How did the business come about?
It started during my spring break in my senior year of college. My parents had a house on the lake in Lake Anna. A neighbor who lived a couple of doors down from my parent’s house was having a dock built. I watched it being built and thought I could do it better. So, for the last part of my senior year, I spent time doing just that. The business was called Lakeside Improvements.
I had a partner, Jeff, we went to kindergarten through to college together and then started a business. We had a mentor; a guy that owned a marina. I bought a barge from him and he let us use his marina to build and test things. Someone he knew, who stored his boats at the marina, had just bought a house in the area and needed a dock built and that’s how we got our first customer.
Jeff is still working in the business today with the pile driver I built in 1997.
What was the evolution from Lake Anna to where you are today? Tell us about that.
Lake Anna is secluded. I was 22 and just graduated from college. I wanted to leave the area but my business partner didn’t, so I sold him half of the business. I then took a year off to figure out what I wanted to do. I moved back to Maryland where I am originally from.
I landed in Germantown, Maryland, lived with a couple of my buddies and did odd jobs for the year. I then got into the residential home building market around 2000 and did that up until the point of coming to work for J2H. It was mostly residential home building and remodeling. I actually did some work for John [Sadlik] during this time while he was Vice President of Construction at First Potomac. If they had a tenant move out I would bring it back to a clean white shell so they could put it back on the market for lease.
One of the interesting things I did while doing residential home building was modular homes. It was different than what others were doing and I was able to do a lot more volume compared to others. I was able to build six or seven houses a year by myself.
Impressive! Two businesses under your belt. What was the biggest takeaway from your time in residential home building? How do you use that in your day-to-day work now?
The overarching theme is that relationships are everything. I really enjoyed that element back then and still treasure it in my job today. Working with different people and forming a level of trust with your customers and contractors is incredibly rewarding.
What does your day-to-day look like at J2H?
My role currently is centered on our cannabis clients. We manage projects for owners who know how to grow the product for instance, but don’t necessarily know how to build a building. Our role is to make sure things are built properly, figure out ways to minimize cost and stay on schedule. The sooner a client can start selling, the sooner they can recoup the costs of their build.
Since cannabis is a relatively new industry, can you tell us about the synergies between cannabis projects and other sectors?
Between my 23 years of experience in owning my own business as well as my time here working for J2H, I have been provided with a lot of perspective on different types of construction projects. At the end of the day, construction is construction, however, it’s most important to know and understand the needs of your client to translate those needs for the construction team.
What it really comes down to is the trust that you build. While we represent the owners, if we don’t have the trust of the general contractors, architects, or engineers, the projects won’t go well. So really, it is about relationship building through the entire project process, no matter what industry the project is in.
Are there any challenges or nuances in the cannabis industry?
The cannabis industry is evolving very quickly. New technologies, better equipment, and machinery are coming about all the time. The first cannabis project I worked on had light fixtures installed, they were brand new, but then new LED lights came out during construction, so we pulled out all the light fixtures and installed the new LED lights.
One particular aspect that has had to evolve is HVAC systems. Nobody had built HVAC systems that were cannabis driven until very recently. The interesting thing about growing cannabis is the different heat measurements of the plant throughout its lifespan. The plant has different heat measurements at different heights. The conditions in a growing facility, therefore, change daily. Heating and cooling systems weren’t designed to meet these requirements in the beginning, but they are becoming much more robust and more controllable.
It is a constant evolution- change orders come for the better, and it’s our responsibility to plan for them.
Awesome perspective. Thanks for sharing. Okay, some softball questions to end! What do you like most about working at J2H?
Honestly, it goes back to everything I have said about building relationships and meeting new people. When I decided to leave my business, I didn’t want to go and work for a large company where you’re just a number. I wanted to work for a growing, nimble company. I wanted to be a part of a dynamic team, and that’s exactly what J2H is. I am happy to be a part of it.
What do you like to do for fun? We heard you have a lot of animals. How many animals do you have?
We sure do! My wife, three kids, and I have a horse farm in Knoxville, Maryland. We have 11 horses, a goat, 9 cats, and a dog. I love the goat- we got it for our daughter’s birthday.