Family businesses are so important to the economy that Forbes Magazine has even created something it calls the “Family 500,” an index comprised of the largest family-owned businesses in the world.
You won’t find Camp Hill-based Smith Land & Improvement Corp. on that list (at least not yet), but the company has played an important role in the Harrisburg area’s economy for a century.
Founded in 1918, the company didn’t actually start out as a family venture, which came a bit later and took some good fortune.
In the 1930s, young Dick Jordan was thumbing a ride to a baseball game, which is how he met Luther Bruce (LB) Smith, a tireless entrepreneur who had started out as a butcher but then built a business in Lemoyne refurbishing government vehicles and machinery.
Smith took a liking to him and gave him a position in his purchasing department, even holding a job for him when he went off to fight in World War II.
“Between the mid-‘30s and 1968, my father worked for the company, and LB thought enough of him to make him the successor and CEO,” said Richard E. Jordan II, the current board chairman who has been with the company since 1963.
Three decades later, his son, Richard E. Jordan III, joined the business and, just this past January, as the company turns 100, replaced his father as president and CEO.
Jordan II laughed as he reflected back on LB Smith’s ambitious nature and the fact that the businessman was once involved in 77 different corporations.
“He even had gas wells in West Virginia, and we had to employ a well tender to ensure they were operating correctly,” he said.
As the decades passed, the company streamlined and divested not only of the heavy equipment business, but of most of the other businesses. It kept two main assets: the LB Smith Ford Lincoln car dealership in Lemoyne and the development arm, Smith Land & Improvement Corp.
The amiable father/son pair laugh when they attempt to describe the secret to their longevity in the business.
“I’ve gone through two-and-a-half economic downturns, and, the more you go through, the less hair you have,” said Jordan II, patting his smooth pate. “We managed our way into it and our way out of it. Resilience is key. It wasn’t fun, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
The younger Jordan added that the recession years following the financial crisis of 2008 were especially challenging.
“There wasn’t a lot happening in the real estate business at that time, and some people lost their shirts,” he said. “But we were able to make a few deals.”
In part, they credit their conservative approach to being able to survive during the toughest economic times.
“We put 20 percent down and finance the rest and engage in deals that have a critical mass of tenants and equity before we get underway,” said Jordan III, explaining the company’s cautious approach.
Today, Smith Land’s portfolio is comprised of some 50 properties throughout the region, including a variety of retail establishments, including the West Shore Plaza in Lemoyne, the Silver Creek Plaza on the Pike in Hampden Township and the Leola Square in Leola, along with numerous office sites. The company currently is seeking to generate interest in a 165-acre tract of land called “Swatara Plaza at the Concourse,” a $150-million, mixed-use infill project just outside of Hershey.
On the other side of the Susquehanna, Smith Land is redeveloping the area between S. 18th and S. 19th streets in Camp Hill to make the area more pedestrian-friendly—a development that has many borough residents excited.
As the junior Jordan settles into his new position as CEO, his goals are similar to those who came before him.
“They’ve laid a good foundation for success, and we like the idea of redeveloping where we live and improving the environment for our neighbors,” he said. “We want our projects to be representative of who we are and make the residents proud of what we do. They know we have a reputation for doing it the right way, and, if something goes wrong, we’ll be here to fix it.”
Smith Land & Improvement Corp. is located at 1810 Market St., Camp Hill. For more information, call 717-731-0207 or visit www.smithlandusa.com.