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May 20, 2011

Construction Q&A: Kevin DeVries

DeVries

Company: Exxel Pacific

Title: President

Kevin DeVries didn’t grow up planning to run a construction company, but one thing led to another.

The Pella, Iowa, native majored in psychology at Dordt, a small college in Iowa with a national draw, including from Northwest communities affiliated with the Dutch Christian Reformed Church.

DeVries made a friend there, Mark Hollander, from the Whatcom County town of Lynden whose father, Mike Hollander, was a developer. DeVries moved to Bellingham after college to work for the elder Hollander and Sid Baron, his partner at Exxel Group, developing apartments.

Hollander and Baron went their separate ways, DeVries said, and he remained with Baron, changing the company name to Exxel Development Group. Two years later, in 1989, they began to focus on construction, starting Exxel Development Construction to build the projects they were developing.

The Bellingham-based company now constructs a variety of commercial, residential and mixed-use projects. DeVries said much of Exxel Pacific’s work is with repeat clients, in keeping with the company’s goal to be “relationship-driven.”

Exxel Pacific received a Build Washington award for its work on the Joule apartments in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

What do you like about your work?

I think the best thing is that it’s not routine. It changes all the time, and there are always significant challenges that you need to deal with and work through.

What makes it challenging?

To have a project be successful requires a significant commitment. I think a lot people would be surprised just how many parts and pieces and people are involved in bringing a $30 million project from inception to finish.

Do you see business picking up?

I think there’s been a pickup in certain types of work. Multifamily, large mixed-use residential projects — there’s quite a number of those out there. What I don’t see is a small entrepreneur developer that has a $4 million or $5 million project being able to (build) that based on current lending requirements and equity required.

How did you adjust to the recession?

We picked up a few jobs down in Portland, but that also has always been a part of our culture. We’ve actually worked in places as far away as Las Vegas, St. Louis, San Diego. We do have the ability to go farther out to get the work, however none of those markets were any better than Seattle in 2010.

Will commodity prices be a concern again?

I wouldn’t say it’s a major factor at this point, but yeah, we’re going to see increased prices if the economy does get on a firm footing here.

What’s your dream project?

A dream project is a successful project for all members involved — the consulting team, the development team, the contracting team — and also a successful project. Those are the types of projects you want to be involved in. Whether or not that’s a high-rise or another building doesn’t really matter.

How would you describe the culture at Exxel Pacific?

Outstanding. The culture is our number one focus, and has been from day one. It’s important for me that (employees) feel like they are a very important part of the overall organization.

How do you set the tone?

It sort of comes about by hiring the best. I’m not looking to hire mediocre people.


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