Blog: Whatever … it takes: Slight upturn in economy has many believing

BridgeTower Media Newswires//November 30, 2010

Blog: Whatever … it takes: Slight upturn in economy has many believing

BridgeTower Media Newswires//November 30, 2010

Nash Nunnery

Most in the industry will admit that there are some serious challenges awaiting construction firms, and the general building trades, in Mississippi and across the nation.

Though there has been a slight upturn in the economy, construction companies, to some degree, are re-inventing themselves to some degree to keep up with changing financial times.

Lance McCarty, owner of Pascagoula-based Fletcher Construction, says companies in the industry have to be willing to change during periods of an economic downturn.

“Fletcher Construction hasn’t changed our business model, per se, but in the difficult times in which we live now, we do seek projects that may be considered less attractive to other firms,” he said.

What McCarty is referring to are so-called “dirty” projects, jobs such as demolitions or renovations that may not provide the same bang for the buck as public bid projects but are nonetheless profitable.

In fact, dirty projects have served Fletcher Construction “very well” over the years, McCarty admits.

“I’ve always tried to keep those types of jobs in our project mix,” he said. “Some of them can be a gamble and can come back to haunt you. But, all in all, you have to be aggressive and go after those dirty jobs the way the economy has been the last two to three years.”

In spite of long unemployment lines affecting businesses across the board, the construction industry remains highly competitive, and firms must continually improve the way that they do business.

Bidding for projects that aren’t typical or glamorous has become a way to survive for some construction companies, McCarty adds.

“Traditionally, we’ve been very successful with hospital, bank and church constructions, plus our work with Northrup Grumman,” he said. “But doing renovation or demolition work is something we’ve always done, even in good times.”

Lee Nations, director of business development with Johnson Construction in Pearl, believes that traditional public bid projects are still his firm’s bread-and-butter.

“Historically, our business has been driven by the public bid market,” Nations said. “We’re still doing a lot of public school construction and prison projects. The public bid market has been really good to us over the years.”

But Nations concurs with McCarty – times have changed and the industry players must change with them.

“Today, we’re willing to do anything and everything,” he said, emphatically. Formerly in the real estate industry, Nations has developed relationships with numerous individuals in the office development market.

Interior build-outs of existing properties has become a staple at Johnson Construction, Nations acknowledged.

“With my experience in the (real estate) industry, I have been able to foster relationships with brokers and agents,” said Nations. “It has been a concerted effort to aggressively go after that market and it has paid off for us.”

In late October, the firm was busy transforming the old Nick’s Restaurant on Lakeland Drive in Jackson into an eye care clinic.

“From a contractor’s standpoint, if you’re able to develop relationships with people, you’ll have a lot of work on the books,” he said.

Growing new business is a priority for Johnson Construction.

“The construction industry is very cyclical,” he concludes. “It’s just been down a little more the past couple of years than in other cycles.”