Lifting up the Motor City

Produced by Bill Keaton and Written by Emma Gregg

For over 65 years, JJ Curran Crane Company has been responsible for much of the heavy lifting in southeastern Michigan.

As Detroit’s largest crane rental and lifting equipment company, JJ Curran Crane’s sales staff and operating engineers have erected bridges across the Flint River, assisted in renovating the Detroit Free Press Building and set up and broken down Detroit’s annual boat show. The company’s fleet is made up of 18- to 450-ton hydraulic-cranes as well as conventional crawler and tower cranes.

Through its affiliate, Fleet Cost & Care, the company also develops and sells centralized fleet management software which enables companies to improve the speed with which they invoice and process payroll. It also eliminates duplicate data entry and improves safety.

Though JJ Curran Crane has propped up projects throughout Michigan and the Midwest, CFO Jeff Curran says the company feels a special connection to the work it does in its hometown of Detroit.

“Our cranes spend the most time in the city’s refineries, steel mills and other industrial projects,” he says. “So driving through the streets [of this city], knowing your employees and your company contributed to parts of the city skyline and industrial might, you cannot help but feel a connection.”

Jeff and his brother Larry, who is company president, represent the second generation to run the crane rental company. Their father, John “JJ” Curran, started it in 1950.

A Detroit native, JJ passed on to his sons not only his expertise in the crane industry, but his love for the city and its resilience.

“Our father understood that the community in which you work takes care of you and your employees, so in return, our company had a responsibility to take care of the community any way it could,” says Larry.

As co-owners, Jeff and Larry say they continue their father’s legacy by donating to organizations like the Scleroderma Foundation, Boy Scouts of America, American Cancer Society and Beaumont’s Drive to Beat Breast Cancer. But their proudest achievement may be supporting youth hockey in the Detroit area.

For over 60 years, JJ Curran Crane Company has passed along its founder’s love of hockey by lifting up youth teams across Detroit.

The gift of hockey

For JJ Curran Crane, the priority of giving back started in the 1960s.

At the time, JJ’s crane company was handling multi-million-dollar construction projects in Michigan and was expanding throughout the Midwest. “I think he felt very fortunate to have a thriving company, and wanted to give back to those who might not have so much,” Larry says.

In the end, JJ and his wife, Jacquelyn decided to start with what they knew best: hockey.

For the Curran family, the sport was something of an obsession. The family has had seasonal tickets for the Detroit Red Wings for over 50 years, and as children, Larry and Jeff spent the long Michigan winters practically living on the ice. Larry even played hockey for Michigan State University, and Jeff still plays twice a week.

JJ and Jacquelyn wanted to makes sure other children had a chance to enjoy the sport they both loved.

So in 1962, JJ teamed up with Red Wings legend, Gordie Howe, to finance and build Michigan’s first indoor public hockey rink in the city of St. Clair Shores. The rink encouraged local communities to start building their own rinks, which enabled the substantial growth of youth hockey across southeastern Michigan.

Along with supporting the Detroit hockey community, JJ Curran Crane also started sponsoring a junior team called Olympia Agency, soon to be known as the Junior Red Wings, which was the first Junior A hockey team in the United States.

By then, JJ Curran Crane had a fleet of over 50 machines, and was becoming the region’s go-to provider for self-
propelled and truck-mounted hydraulic equipment.

In 1979, five years after Larry started working full time for his father’s company, JJ Curran Crane was hired to work on the Joe Louis Arena, which was to be the home of the Detroit Red Wings. Larry called the project “an absolute privilege” for him and his family—they were the team’s biggest fans, after all.

Larry’s younger brother, Jeff, joined the company full time in 1981, and the brothers officially took over the business in 1988, with Larry as president and Jeff as CFO.

Jeff would also go on to launch Fleet Cost & Care in 1993, in order to modernize the company’s fleet and personnel operations.

The Curran responsibility

Still avid hockey fans, Jeff and Larry continue their father’s legacy both in cranes and philanthropy.

In 2015, JJ Curran Crane was hired to work on another arena for their beloved Red Wings. For the new Little Caesars Arena, located in Detroit’s midtown, the company staged and set 60 to 70 boilers and rooftop units, some of which weighted up to 50,000 pounds.

“Being able to contribute to their new home and future is really something special, something my Dad would appreciate,” Larry says.

Over the years, the company also never lost sight of its responsibility to the community.

Today, JJ Curran Crane sponsors Detroit Ice Dreams, a non-profit organization that teaches kids how to play hockey and figure skate; the Motor City Hawks, a Detroit junior hockey team in the United States Premiere Hockey League; and the Grosse Ile Devils, an eight-and-under team in the Downriver Hockey League.

“Cultivating amateur athletics can be an integral part of a kid’s childhood. By supporting these teams, the JJ Curran Crane Company can foster athleticism, teamwork and a well-rounded individual,” Jeff says. “We want to give these kids a chance to enjoy a sport that played such a big role in our early lives—and in our current lives.”

Publish Date: 
Friday, May 26, 2017