Drive through Howard County and it's easy to pick out buildings by Old Town Construction: They're wearing a signature natural stone veneer.
Jared Spahn, owner of the Ellicott City construction company, dresses all his buildings in the earth-colored rocks, and a handful of those buildings dot Howard County.
The 27-year-old businessman started Old Town Construction LLC last year with little experience in the industry, and swiftly built it into a company with $7 million of projects finished and more in the works.
"Before I built my first building, I hadn't even built a tree house," said Spahn, who is also the newly elected vice president of the Ellicott City Business Association.
Born and raised in Howard County, Spahn aspired to enter politics. He worked one summer as a page for former Sen. Bob Dole, studied public policy at Washington and Lee University, interned for Sen. Jesse Helms, and took a semester off during college to work for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
After college, he moved to a small town in South Carolina for a year, teaching history and government at a private school. Spahn returned to Maryland in 1996 with hopes of a job on Capitol Hill, and his father sent him to an old friend and local developer, Donald R. Reuwer Jr.
"Jared reminded me a lot of myself when I was that age," said Reuwer, who was also once a teacher. "I knew he had all the tools to really, really be a successful player in the real estate business."
Reuwer hired Spahn as a project manager for his land development company, Land Design and Development LLC.
"He started me doing the lowest of the low," recalled Spahn.
He started with soil testing to determine if land was good enough for septic systems, and paper chases to push projects through local regulations.
But after two years, Reuwer gave Spahn his own project: Turn a tree-covered hill at U.S. 40 and St. John's Lane into a parking lot and commercial building filled with tenants in one year.
"It probably was very traumatic for him, I guess," Reuwer said, "but he just grabbed a hold of the thing and ran with it."
Spahn made the one-year deadline, decorating the building with natural stone veneer and signing on tenants before the project was complete. The first one moved in Jan. 1, 1998, and Spahn said: "I wanted to cry I was so happy."
With the help of Reuwer, Spahn started Old Town Construction a year later. Spahn does all the contracting and construction, and Reuwer, who is a partner in the company, co-signs on bank loans and helps with business strategies.
Old Town has built seven commercial buildings, three houses and has about 16 projects under construction, Spahn said.
With five full-time employees plus hundreds of private contractors, Spahn's company has completed about $7 million of work and has about $13.1 million worth of projects (which includes the cost of land for the buildings) under construction, he said.
The company's projects underway include rehabilitating Howard County's 18th-century manor, Dorsey Hall, and building offices behind it, and turning the old volunteer firehouse in historic Ellicott City into offices - decorated, of course, with Old Town's signature stone.
Touring his company's finished products on a recent morning, Spahn cruised down a street where one home stood out with its natural stone veneer and asked with a giggle: "Can you guess which one's my house?"