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Dissen & Juhn Company celebrates a 50-year legacy in marine construction

Dissen & Juhn Company is a second-generation, family-owned business. From left are: Mark Dissen, vice president; Gil Dissen, company co-founder; and Gilbert W. Dissen, president.

Posted on August 23, 2023

According to the most recent statistics from NOAA and the Bureau of Economic Analysis the U.S. marine economy represents an estimated $361 billion of the country’s gross domestic product. Of that, about $7 billion is generated by marine construction.

These numbers come as no surprise to local marine and foundation contractor, the Dissen & Juhn Company, which is celebrating the half-century mark in business. The business credits its longevity to two important tenets — to succeed a company has to adapt to changing market conditions, and the belief that a company is only as good as its employees.

Originally based in New YorkDissen & Juhn Company officially opened its doors on April 1, 1973. At the time, founders Martin Juhn and Gil Dissen were working for Marine Resources Inc., a Rochester, NY-based marine technology company specializing in underwater acoustics. Juhn managed the firm’s finances and Dissen ran their marine construction arm. When MRI moved to Florida, Juhn and Dissen acquired the marine construction part of the company, and named it the Dissen & Juhn Corporation.

In the early days, the company worked along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the New York State Barge Canal System. Lake Ontario’s water level was exceptionally high at that time creating serious shore erosion problems. As a result, Dissen & Juhn focused on placing large dolomite stones (3 to 5 tons each) from a barge along several hundred lake front properties, both public and private. After a few years, the lake level subsided and the demand for armor stone with it.

A new market opportunity opened up when the federal government began upgrading the New York’s sewage treatment facilities, and Dissen & Juhn won numerous sub-aqueous pipeline contracts as a result. However, like with armor stone, this opportunity eventually diminished. The company re-focused on providing dredging, pile driving and carpentry services to various commercial and municipal clients.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, principal markets for the firm included the installation of bulkheads, seawalls, and other shoreline erosion control structures; municipal water intake and outfall structures; and navigation aids along Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and New York’s inland waterway.

By the late 1970s, the marine construction market in western New York began to slow down. To continue growing, the company needed to diversify. The question was whether to diversify into another type of construction, or another geographic market. With comparatively mild winters, a 12-month construction season, and 3,190 miles of coastline, the Maryland market for marine construction looked bright.

The move to Maryland

In 1978, the firm expanded into Maryland, securing public contracts with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to build shoreline erosion control structures along the Chesapeake Bay. In 1980, the firm established a regional office in Grasonville, which was subsequently relocated to Stevensville in 2005.

In 1998, brothers Gilbert W. and Mark Dissen acquired an ownership stake in the company, which at the time was doing $2 million in sales. Gil W.’s 20 years in sales and marketing with several large industrial manufacturers made him ideally suited for the business development function within the company, while Mark’s many years in field construction, first as a crewman, then equipment operator, then foreman, made him well qualified for the role of construction supervisor. The brothers assumed full ownership and management responsibility of the company in 2003.

New challenges for the futureToday, Dissen & Juhn Company stands as the region’s pre-eminent mid-size marine and foundation contractor with a proven track record of reliability, safety, environmental stewardship and technical competency. As Dissen looks to the next 50 years, key challenges will be navigating through an increasingly dynamic market, especially with respect to environmental issues, in the face of a chronic shortage of skilled workers. While maintaining a stable workforce will no doubt be challenging, Dissen & Juhn builds on a strong foundation as the average employee has been with the firm over 10 years, which is something almost unheard of in the construction business.

Aside from labor challenges, Gil W. Dissen anticipates hybrid design solutions using engineered plastics and concrete products having a significant impact on the industry in the future, as will a greater emphasis on environmental considerations.

“Today’s challenges, and those of tomorrow, will place a greater emphasis on technical proficiency as contractors apply new materials, tools and techniques to maximize customer value. At Dissen & Juhn, we pride ourselves on having a strong technical foundation on which to build,” said Gilbert W. Dissen, president.

“Dissen & Juhn has a solid reputation as an agile, customer-focused small marine contractor with heavy construction capabilities rarely found in a firm our size. These qualities — technical proficiency, experienced workforce, and customer focus will continue to serve us well into the future,” he added.

Over the course of its history, Dissen & Juhn Company has completed more than 1,200 marine construction projects for various local, state, and federal governmental agencies, and commercial establishments throughout the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and their tributaries as well as on Lake Ontario and New York’s inland waterway.

In addition to providing dredging and pile driving services, the company has extensive experience in the design and construction of timber vehicular and pedestrian bridges and boardwalks, fixed and floating docks, breakwaters, living shorelines, bulkheads and stone revetments, boat ramps, and a variety of other marine structures. The company specializes in the design and construction of marina offering a full range of construction services to marina owner/operators.

Over the past five decades Dissen & Juhn Company has completed more than 1,200 marine construction projects for public and private customers. Currently underway is Lighthouse Point Marina, a $16 million marina reconstruction project in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood.

For Mark Dissen, vice president and construction supervisor, the company’s bright future is all about its employees.

“Dissen and Juhn has always been about our employees past and present. Like the unique character of our Eastern Shore watermen, our employees have always been noted for their tireless effort, skill and quality workmanship. We look with pride over the last 50 years and we are committed to that same legacy for the next 50,” he said.

Dissen & Juhn Company is committed to safety, and participates as a Bronze Level company in the STEP Safety Management System, a program managed by the national construction industry trade association Associated Builders and Contractors. STEP applicants evaluate their safety processes and policies with the goal of implementing or enhancing safety programs that reduce job-site incidents.


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