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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jun. 13, 201612:00 PM EST

Hans Krieg: From milking cows to growing NEFBA

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by: Kevin Hogencamp  Contributing Writer

By Kevin Hogencamp, Contributing Writer

The cards seemed to have been dealt at birth for fourth-generation dairyman Hans Krieg.

At age 6, he was handling farm chores; by high school graduation, he had a key role in his family’s flourishing agribusiness. His mother’s family also was in the dairy business, operating Skinners’ Dairy until the mid-1990s.

Krieg joked recently that milk was in his blood.

“I grew up believing that I would be a dairy producer like my father and grandfathers,” the Jacksonville native said. “I was groomed to handle the profession.”

But the family business hit hard times — and everything changed.

After pumping about $8.5 million into a new state-of-the-art dairy facility at the turn of the century, Mecklenburg Farms folded in 2004.

Krieg said looking back, the company probably tried to expand too fast.

“Unexpected factors put us in over our heads pretty quick — and there was no stopping the fall,” Krieg said.

At Mecklenburg Farms, Krieg had advanced to operations director and vice president. Now 37, he is the Northeast Florida Builders Association member services director.

Far removed from milking cows and 18 months into a job he never fathomed, Krieg says he’s in a great place in his career and his life.

“God closes doors and opens new ones for good reasons,” he said.

Down but not out

For Krieg, starting over is a family trait.

His paternal grandfather, Paul-Friedrich Krieg, was a prolific East German dairy producer and cattle breeder whose assets and livelihood were seized by the Soviet government after World War II.

He fought in the German Army on the Russian front, where his younger brother was killed, and he was later jailed for challenging the communist system.

After escaping to West Germany and living in a refugee camp for two years, Krieg, his wife and five children sailed to the United States in 1955 in pursuit of the American dream — and found it.

The family saved enough money to start a dairy in Pennsylvania. In 1968, the Kriegs and Mecklenburg Farms relocated to Jacksonville.

Ingo Krieg, Hans’ father, ultimately led the ever-expanding family business, which drew dairy producers from throughout the country because of its cow comfort and sorting methods.

“We built a state-of-the-art dairy that could milk 3,000 cows at capacity for another 50 years,” said Hans Krieg.

When the numbers didn’t work and the business was sold at auction, Ingo Krieg was knee-deep in another family business, renewable energy firm Green Power Systems.

In late 2007, then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced a Brazilian investment firm was investing $182 million in Green Power Systems’ initiative to turn non-recyclable solid waste into electricity.

But the funding fell through and the Kriegs were dealt another devastating blow.

“It was just a nightmare — a put-all-your-eggs-in-one-basket thing,” said Krieg, who was working for his father while pursuing the college degree he postponed to help run the dairy business.

“It was go, go, go — and then all money stopped,” he said.

‘The right fit’

Today, Ingo Krieg is semi-retired and enjoying time with his grandchildren.

Hans Krieg rebounded splendidly, too.

In 2014, a friend in the homebuilding business recommended he apply to become NEFBA’s member services director, a key position in what was then the United States’ seventh-largest builders association.

At the time, Krieg was supervising 60 employees on the Beaver Street Fisheries production line night shift and had recently obtained a University of Georgia business management degree.

But NEFBA Executive Officer Corey Deal was looking for someone with sales experience.

The two met a few times before Deal was fully convinced Krieg would be a dynamic, results-oriented team member.

“I just had a gut feeling he was the right fit,” Deal said.

In 2015, Krieg’s first full year with NEFBA, the organization added 164 members, by far the largest growth spurt among the National Association of Home Builders’ 700-plus chapters.

NEFBA is now the nation’s fifth-largest building association. Its 17 percent growth in 2015 was the largest among the national organization’s largest chapters.

Deal says as it turns out, his instincts about Krieg were spot on.

“Hans is as focused as anyone I have ever been around and has found a lot of success in a short amount of time here at the association,” Deal said.

Former NEFBA President Rick Morales said Krieg has a knack for selling the association’s value to prospective members and motivating the organization’s membership to spread the good word, too.

“Hans doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, but he’s never stressed and always gets the job done,” Morales said.

Also, Krieg connects in a positive way with everyone he encounters, Morales said.

“Hans is just a delightful person and has a very easygoing way about him. He’s one of those guys you want to hang out with,” he said.

‘Always keep building’

The construction business wasn’t entirely new to Krieg when he took the NEFBA job.

“My father was a born engineer, so we were constantly building and pouring concrete,” he said.

From 1998 to 2001, Krieg helped manage the construction of a massive new eight-building, eco-friendly dairy facility at Mecklenburg Farms. The Kriegs filled about 15 acres with concrete on building pads raised by as much as nine feet.

“But I’ve never built a house,” he said.

While the largest share of NEFBA builder members are homebuilders and remodelers, many of NEFBA’s associate members — such as mortgage financers, real estate professionals and building products representatives — work in supportive roles in the housing industry.

This year, NEFBA added an affiliate membership level for employees of companies that are in the organization.

“Recruiting for a trade association is not like selling a tangible product,” Deal said.

Despite Krieg’s early success growing NEFBA’s membership, the daily grind never stops. He calls, writes and visits existing and prospective members with the aim of increasing the association’s roll each time the calendar rolls over.

“It’s like Groundhog Day every first of the month,” he said.

Krieg’s sales pitch: NEFBA is the local construction industry’s legislative advocate, business networking and industry training opportunities are plentiful, and the organization improves the community through its service projects.

Krieg said NEFBA members’ ambassadorship for the organization is hugely important to his productivity. And, the more members participate in meetings, social events, community service projects and continuing education, the more they benefit, Krieg tells anyone who’ll listen.

“There is an incredible value of belonging to NEFBA (and) every citizen of our community benefits from swinging hammers,” he said.

Krieg says it’s particularly fulfilling and reinforcing to hear longtime NEFBA members’ testimonies about the benefits they’ve received from their membership.

“You can see the same enthusiasm among the new members the more involved they become,” he said.

Krieg says he’s benefiting from having joined a team whose members trust and respect one another.

“We have each other’s backs,” he said.

Another thing Krieg fancies about his job are the hours. He says he routinely worked sunup to sundown seven days a week on the farm. Today, putting in a few extra hours to get a job done “simply feels normal and right,” he said.

“I really appreciate where I am,” he said. “This position has been a turning point in my life allowing me to finally spend afternoons and weekends with my wife (Leeann), whose love and support makes what I do possible.”

Krieg says when he looks back on his dairyman’s life, the bottom line is he feels he was trained to be a producer.

“What I learned … was to use your head, work longer and harder than everyone else, respect others, and to always keep building personally and professionally,” he said.

Morales says that’s exactly why Krieg was hired — and is excelling – at NEFBA.

“When you’re building a team, Hans is exactly the kind of person you’re looking for,” he said.

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