Skip to content

To Remake North Minneapolis, Devean George Swaps Basketball For Buildings

He’s lived in Los Angeles, Dallas, and San Francisco (to name a few). He’s delivered championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and made career-defining moves with the Dallas Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors.

No matter the wins, the championships, or even the seemingly impossible 3-pointers, Devean George has always returned to where it all started for him: Minneapolis.

DSC06185_1200x559

Devean George (third from left) attends the groundbreaking ceremony for his George Modular Solutions' new modular building factory in Minneapolis, MN.

George, born and raised in North Minneapolis, was an active athlete all throughout childhood, training in loads of camps throughout the region. He attended Augsburg College and from there was drafted to the NBA. He was one of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round draft picks—and from a Division III school at that—a rarity that reflected a history of hard work, dedication, and local investment from the Minneapolis community.

“I was able to get [into] free camps, so I’ve always been appreciative of those types of things,” he said. “Naturally when I made it to the NBA, I really wanted to help my neighborhood out.”

Giving back to Minneapolis from LA, Dallas, and San Francisco

During the summers off from the NBA, George was coming back home to Minneapolis. He first started working with a nonprofit called “Why Can’t I Go?” where he sponsored the trips of 20 star students to Disneyland and LA for a brief vacation to show them life
outside the state of Minnesota. In Dallas, he sponsored five low-income families for the holidays through Buckner International, paying for their holiday preparations, gifts, and more.

After 11 years in the NBA, George started looking at other career shifts. While many of his colleagues went either into sports punditry,
entertainment, or other places, he saw the value of real estate development. Having purchased some properties in LA, Dallas, and elsewhere, he wanted to see what he could do with his existing nonprofit “Building Blocks,” real estate, and creating new developments.

It was also a pressing need that he saw evolve over the years in Minneapolis. With his consistent trips back home over the summer and the All-Star break, George saw a gradual decrease in financial investment in his neighborhood.

“My dad still lives in the house that I grew up in. He’s been there for over 45 years,” said George. “But every year I came back, there were fewer and fewer resources being put into our community…That was really what got me going and talking to my dad. I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we start trying to get some resources put back in our community? Because I’m seeing more and more abandoned buildings, more and more vacant buildings, more and more vacant homes.”

George saw an opportunity to address the lack of equitable community development and also provide jobs for those who still lived in the area.

“How do I help my community with my nonprofit?” he asked. “I kind of combined that question with a business one so I can help my community with rebuilding it and also help my community with providing the permanent jobs that’s needed.”

He answered both queries with one business idea: modular manufacturing.

Devean George, founder and president of George Modular Solutions

Investing in North Minneapolis with Modular

This wasn’t George’s first foray into real estate, as he’s built and developed projects aimed at providing affordable housing. When addressing issues as widespread and systemic related to housing shortages and affordable residences, he had to take certain things into consideration to ensure the viability and resilience of his developments.

“In our region where there are climate issues, there are extra costs in the winter, as well as road restrictions where you can’t have heavy machinery moving at times,” said George. “It’s just a lot of hoop jumping that you have to do in a cold weather climate.”

Alongside his previous work as a local speaker, he also heard from other former basketball professionals doing social work or afterschool programs, which echoed the demand he saw for more housing options. A lot of children who attended these programs or families who worked with social services often talked about the lack of stable housing. George heard this over and over again.

“Being from North Minneapolis, I knew where I was staying at every night,” he said. “I wasn’t staying at different homes or bouncing around. I was at my house every day. I knew we had stable housing. I wanted to really tackle that issue with the affordable housing projects to create that stable housing. So that’s kind of how I got started.”

George cited three positives that made modular the natural choice: predictability, speed, and being able to build year-round. All these help to answer the more pressing issue on his mind.

“[With] the housing shortage throughout the nation, especially in our region, there’s no way we can just do stick-built,” he said. “There’s no way.”

DSC06202_1200x800

Devean George and his executive team at George Modular Solutions.

A Modular Education for Complete Business Innovation

With the decision to go fully modular, George needed to find executives and mentors that shared his vision and desire to move forward.

One of his earliest contacts was Archie Givens, a mentor that George said, “showed me the process and handed me the consultants that I need to help me with the process I was going through.”

Consultants pointed him to relevant literature, as well as attending valuable seminars and conferences. However, it wasn’t just related to modular construction, as the focus on affordable housing meant understanding how federal and state subsidies and grants would apply to modular developments.

Currently George Modular Solutions has four employees, including himself, CEO Lewis Lockwood, and COO Will Gorrilla. They are starting with two developments in Minneapolis, an 83-unit property and a 190-unit complex. They are planning to grow to seven employees once construction starts, with the aim of expanding to over 100 employees within the first year.

The number of employees will help, as George has also purchased a modular factory to make everything quickly and in-house.

“I now have a modular plant, not just for me, but for a need throughout,” said George. “This is just not a Devean need or a George Group North need. This is a need from city to city.”

As the business continues to establish itself in the space, George looks to expand his project options with the factory, not just in terms of project types but also locations. He is also innovating within the modular industry itself, creating new types of modular design using light-gauge steel.

“We’ll be working with hotels, we’ll be working with hospitals, we’ll be working with both the market rate and affordable developers, people looking for office buildings,” he said. George also mentioned a stated interest from developers in California and in other states, giving the company a series of potential business partnerships to nurture over the years.

Keeping a Company Grounded While Seeking Growth

While the business goals are realistic for George Modular Solutions, they’re not the main goals. In going back to Minneapolis for George, he is looking for practical ways to infuse the community with vibrant growth and to inject much-needed stability and economic development.

With his company, George is looking to train people to keep them in-house, providing a stable paycheck. With the two upcoming developments, he is hoping to provide houses for those who are seeking stable housing—offering a solid foundation for the growth of Minneapolis.

“We’re going to have a great environment to come in and work,” he said. “That’s been one of the things that I’ve been most proud of too, of building my business in our community, [because] people see that there’s a cause to it. People see that there’s a reason for it, so I want to build that culture.”

There’s a lot of hope for the business, but it comes with a certain amount of challenges as well. Chief among these challenges is the education hurdle for funders, city officials, and business partners, said George, as they are typically unaware of what modular construction can entail and how different it can be from stick-built construction.

“It’s hard, but I would say that’s kind of my comfort zone of tackling difficult projects,” said George. “So this is kind of right in my wheelhouse.”

Devean George, former MBA player and president of George Modular Solutions in Minneapolis, MN

No Matter if it’s Basketball or Business, it’s All About the People

As the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link. For George, he takes that to heart both on the court and in business.

Athletes are known for their dedication and discipline to the craft, but they also know the value of teamwork.

“Even if I am the head of the company, I have to know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at, and make sure I get the right people,” said George. “I don’t have a problem saying, ‘I don’t understand.’ I don’t have a problem with asking a question. I don’t have a problem with saying I’m not really good at that. It’s okay. But I am good at finding the right people to get those things done.”
George cares deeply about retaining a positive reputation, as all businesses want to be seen as credible and reliable. However, he also understands the value of healthy risk—something that’s come natural to him as an athlete.

“I don’t second guess myself,” he said. “Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. I’m a person that takes action. I really do a lot of due diligence, [but] once that’s done, I can care less about the little stuff. I’ll just figure it out and make it happen. So that’s why I’ve been successful. I think I just don’t have fear.”

In combining fearlessness and teamwork, George is looking to set up George Modular Solutions to fulfill its mission of giving back to the community that raised him. The modular plant that he recently purchased happened to be across the street from another older plant where most of the community’s older residents used to work.

“My mother, my architect’s mother, and [State] Senator Bobby Joe Champion’s mother, they all worked there in that plant,” said George. “And that’s the story that we’re telling is that we want to give somebody else a chance from the community. We want to build that unity that we’ve had in the past through this, and we want to be on the other side and say, ‘Hey, we’ve paid it forward and now our plant has produced the next senator.’”

About the Author: Karen P. Rivera is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for storytelling. She is former United Nations-based reporter, with experience covering international breaking news, venture capital, emerging healthcare tech, and the video game industry.

More from Modular Advantage

Samantha Taylor: Leading the (Modular) Design of Tomorrow

“With modern technology and the way we’ve all embraced things like BIM, file sharing, and video conferencing since COVID, it’s easy to collaborate with companies in Austria, or Singapore, or anywhere else in the world.”

Greg DeLeon: Military Engineering to Modular Design

Greg DeLeon, a structural engineer at ISE Structural Engineers in Temecula, California, can tell you not only how large a beam needs to be to support a house, but also how much explosives you’ll need to take it down, thanks to his unique combination of professional and military experience.

Chelsi Tryon: Making the World a Better Place

For Chelsi Tryon, Director of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) for WillScot Mobile Mini, nothing is more enjoyable than increasing the
company’s sustainability efforts while simultaneously doing her bit to save the environment.

Joshua Hart: Pushing Boundaries

Joshua Hart, P.E., vice president at Modular
Solutions, can sum up his job responsibilities in one sentence: “I do whatever needs to be done.” Hart thrives on the variety and the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of the company. And it shows! You might say Hart has come full circle.

Jamie Metzger: From Construction to Apparel and Back Again

Growing up in a blue-collar city like Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, it’s no surprise that Jamie Metzger spent some time working labor jobs on construction sites. It’s one of the most common summer jobs in the city. But that’s probably the last predictable thing about this particular story.

Victor Masso: Expanding Modular in Puerto Rico

Victor Masso joined 2 Go Storage, a company started by his grandfather and father, in 2018 to develop a modular building division in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Prior to joining the company, he had worked in the industry for about four years focusing on pharmaceutical, commercial, and government projects.

Eliyah Ryals: Finding the Perfect Fit

It’s not common for people to find their perfect career fit straight out of college. It’s even less common to find it in the town you grew up in. But that’s exactly what happened when Eliyah Ryals was told about vacancies at Panel Built and made the decision to apply.

Through It All, It’s Still About the Workers

By February 2024, the number of available, unfilled construction job openings had reached an all-time high. At some point, interest rates will fall, creating another surge in demand for such workers. In short, solving the nation’s skilled worker shortage issue has never been more important.

Navigating Insurance Challenges in the Modular Construction Industry

Utilizing practical written minimum insurance and indemnity requirements, along with monitoring certificates of insurance by someone who has COI training will not yield a perfect risk transfer strategy, but the exposure will be managed much better than it likely is currently.

Digitalizing Your Products for Seamless Integration into Modular Projects

KOPE enables products to carry information on product data, drawing templates, links to other products and systems, and the rules on how they should be configured and arranged in projects. We need to get rid of moments where decisions are translated either from one skill set to another and from one file type to another. The data that informs you should also be the data that gets passed along to the next link in the chain.