Original article by: BUILDER Online Magazine

The founder of Great Southern Homes may construct homes for his business, but builds up his community through his various charitable endeavors.

“Generous,” “supportive,” and “selfless” are just a few of the recurring words that were used to describe the character of Great Southern Homes’ Michael Nieri. Founder, owner, and president of the Irmo, S.C.–based home building company, Nieri has always strived to provide well-built, affordably priced homes for first-time and move-up buyers, but he also believes in building up and giving back to his local community by sharing his success with several charities and groups in need.

For his dedication to the industry and charitable efforts, Nieri has been awarded a 2020 Hearthstone BUILDER Humanitarian Award. Since 1999, the award recognizes home builders who demonstrate a lifetime commitment to public service. Hearthstone has contributed more than $6 million to the winning builders’ charities, making it the largest philanthropic award program in the home building industry.

“Hearthstone is proud to recognize Michael Nieri of Great Southern Homes as our private home builder winner for his contributions and support to our industry’s future leaders by endowing a scholarship program to support students focused on a career in construction management,” says Mark Porath, CEO of Hearthstone. “We also recognize Michael’s dedication to helping sick and underprivileged children through his construction of state-of-the art dream camps such as Camp Cole.”

Nieri began his building journey at Clemson University in the Construction Science and Management Department in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities. After graduating in 1986, Nieri spent 10 years working in the field before deciding he wanted to establish his own home building business in 2004.

According to BUILDER’s annual Builder 100 list, in 2014 Great Southern Homes had 386 closings. In 2016, the company closed 756 units and secured the third spot on the top 10 list of fastest-growing private companies. In 2019, the builder ranked No. 54 on the Builder 100 with 947 closings; the firm has jumped to No. 44 for 2020.

With the company’s continued success, Nieri has chosen to contribute to educational institutions that helped shape him, like Clemson University, and to local charities that will create a positive impact in the community in which he builds, such as Camp Cole and the Building Industry Charitable Foundation.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my business,” states Nieri. “I’m no superstar. I’m a normal person that’s found a passion and figured out how to do it.”

The Nieri family was recognized for their generous gift during an event at Clemson University.
Courtesy Clemson University The Nieri family was recognized for their generous gift during an event at Clemson University.

Clemson University
This past year, Nieri and his wife, Robyn, chose to gift $5 million to Clemson University’s Construction Science and Management Department. In turn, Clemson named the department “The Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management.” It is the only named department in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities and one of just four named departments at Clemson, according to the company.

“I wanted to further the cause for the Building Science degree in the College of Architecture because it perpetuates our business, and I like to give back to things that have helped me,” explains Nieri. “I’m just happy that whatever little bit of influence I may have is going to help move our program to the top of the college heap nationally.”

In addition to name recognition and elevated academic status at Clemson, Nieri also employs a dozen or so interns each year at Great Southern Homes. Historically, the department has been geared toward commercial construction, but Nieri’s donation holds potential to shift that focus more on residential development and home building going forward.

Previously, Nieri also gifted $2.5 million to the university in 2018. The funds were used to develop The Nieri Family Student Athlete Enrichment Center, a new student-athlete academic and life skills enrichment area in Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. Nieri also gave $25,000 to the School of Architecture for classroom furnishings, making his donation total to the university around $8 million in the past few years.

“Michael, his family, and the employees of Great Southern Homes are to be applauded for not only building good homes but also their commitment to building a better community and helping to educate future home builders by their generous support of Clemson University,” stated Clemson University, in a press release. “We thank the Nieri family for supporting Clemson and the work done at the university to educate future home builders.”