1998 Laureates

James J. Powell

"One of the things we as a company have tried to do through the years is to give back to the community by contributing financially and giving as much personal time as possible. Our commitment comes from my personal philosophy that it is the responsibility of every business owner to support the community that supports them."

One of five boys growing up on a 110 acre farm in rural Cub Creek, Tennessee, James J. (Jim) Powell learned the value of a dollar (and scarcity) early on. Jim's parents, Henry and Francis, insisted their children be taught to give and to save.

Jim's ability and potential were recognized in high school. It was through the efforts of his agriculture teacher, Mr. G.E.Horne, that Jim received the Sears & Roebuck Scholarship. Jim Powell was the first member of his family to attend college.

While attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Jim met Sandy Pless and they were married after his sophomore year. Sandy and Jim are the parents of three sons, James, Jr., Michael, and Jeffrey, and the proud grandparents of Jennifer, J.H., David, Michael Lee, Whitney, and Henry.

After leaving the University of Tennessee, Jim joined Powell Erection in Knoxville. Jim began in the business as a mechanic, and worked his way up to superintendent and minority stockholder.

In 1969, Jim moved to Greeneville to start his own business. His dream of owning a business became reality through discipline, hard work, careful planning, and saving. By always investing his bonuses, Jim had accrued stock in his cousin's company that allowed him to start Powell Construction.

In 1972 Jim relocated to Johnson City on Bristol Highway. Jim's timing was perfect--Southwest Virginia's coal economy boomed two years later. Powell Construction's first coal plant was completed in roughly half the time expected by the industry standard. Jim Powell's leadership and "attitude" of doing exceptional work everyday has built a strong business with West Virginia offices in Beckley and Fairmont, and Tennessee offices in Nashville, Knoxville, and Johnson City.

Powell Construction continues to be a family business with Sandy and sons, James Jr., Michael, and Jeffery, as a part of the team. James, Jr. manages the Nashville crane division, Michael commands the computer systems company wide and Jeffery operates the Knoxville crane division.

In addition to Powell Construction, Jim's companies include: Powell Sales with offices in Johnson City, Beckley and Fairmont, Decanter Services with offices in Johnson City, Atlanta and Huntington; Powell Building Group in Nashville and Johnson City and the National Electric Company located in Johnson City and Beckley.

Jim's business acumen has been recognized and honored by his positions as the regional vice president, board member and executive committee member of the Tennessee Business Roundtable, by serving as board member and president at the regional and state levels of the Tennessee Associated General Contractors, and by his duties as a member of the ETSU Business Advisory Board.

Jim and Sandy Powell share an intense passion for community. They well remember the personal effort of putting Jim through UT and the value of his scholarship. Their own experiences led them to focus on the importance of educational opportunity for young people and the great need for scholarship support.

Together Jim and Sandy Powell have endowed over 1.5 million dollars to East Tennessee State University in music, athletic, business and technology scholarships in addition to the Belmont College School of Nursing . Jim chairs the University of Tennessee's Agricultural Campaign that has raised 29 million dollars and served on the University of Tennessee's 21st Century Campaign executive committee.

Jim Powell has served the community as board chair of the Boy Scout Council, the Holston Home for Children, the ETSU Foundation, and the HANDS ON! Museum. The Johnson City Symphony and the Johnson City United Way had benefit of Jim's counsel as a member of the board of directors.

Jim has never forgotten the Christian values his parents taught him. He and Sandy have made the church and their faith the center of their family life. They both believe that God places us for a reason and that as Christians they have the responsibility to leave the community where they live a better place than they found it.

Viewed by the community as a successful business person, Jim Powell says, "If I can say at the end of my life that I have been able to help even one young person by giving them the same opportunity that I was given, then I believe I have been successful".