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By Clive Shearer
February 12, 2014
Most general contractors around here are busy — some are close to booming — and happy to have weathered the downturn. I interviewed executives from two Pacific Northwest firms about the market, their forecast for 2014 and trends in the industry.
Mark Kane, executive vice president at GLY, said he expects a busy year for his firm in the greater Seattle region, with significant project starts on both sides of the lake. “Our core clients are equally busy, either moving new projects forward or reinventing environments within current facilities,” he said.
Q: How is project delivery changing?
Over our history, we've evolved delivery methods on all of our project types, focusing on lean and sustainable solutions that drive value for our clients. To do this effectively, we've invested heavily in training and employee development.
Q: Has this affected the makeup of a typical team?
As our project delivery has become more sophisticated, the composition of our management teams is shifting to include more engineers and architects, in addition to our traditionally strong construction management team members.
Our emphasis is on building an employee base with the tools to closely interact with our design team partners in a virtual building environment. I believe this integrated technical and interpersonal partnership helps to drive field efficiencies. We take the approach that building projects digitally before building them in the field is absolutely critical to faster construction schedules, lower costs and higher quality. Our team uses robotic layout equipment, mobile virtual plan stations, 3D, 4D and 5D visualization, and extensive prefabrication to give us a leaner, more capable delivery platform.
Q: Have you incorporated Lean practices?
All of our core clients and business partners are embracing sustainable and Lean building practices, which have natural synergies. Having positive Lean Healthcare results, we are now implementing Lean principles and strategies in all of our operations, both on construction projects and in our own office, off-site shops and warehouses. As our teams realize the efficiencies, they embrace the process.
Q: Can you share an example of your safe environmental practices?
During preconstruction work on South Lake Union's Allen Institute for Brain Science project, Vulcan challenged us to pursue Salmon-Safe Accreditation. This focuses on water quality and site management practices leading to zero sediment runoff. In fact, we achieved Salmon-Safe Accreditation at the end of 2013, and became the first contractor in the region to accomplish this without conditions. In response to Vulcan's mandate, we are now implementing Salmon-Safe practices in the execution all of our Vulcan projects. Our team members and clients value this commitment because the health of our salmon population often serves as a barometer for the health of our entire regional ecosystem. I think it is a responsible approach to pursue a better future for our kids and community.
Q: What's next on your horizon?
Our focus on constant improvement has galvanized our entire organization. We keep on searching for operational refinements, and more efficient ways to help our clients achieve their own business priorities. Becoming better at what we do is a never-ending story — that's what makes my work at GLY interesting and satisfying.
Skanska USA Building
Chris Toher, executive vice president and general manager of Skanska USA Building in Seattle, said, “Last year was good for the Puget Sound region. Maybe even a great year. Now it's 2014, and signs of continued growth are keeping Skanska's three Seattle business units working hard. If the Seahawks are any indication, I expect more great things from the Puget Sound Region this year.”
Q: Tell me about your development unit.
Our development team is responding to a strong private sector and we have three projects under construction, including our first development project — Stone34 — slated for completion later this year. What's unusual is that we're taking an “inside-out and bottom-up” development approach that incorporates welcoming public spaces on the ground floor and user-friendly workplaces above. We are doing this because we find that businesses and building visitors want more than a lobby on the ground floor.
Q: What is your building team doing to serve your clients?
First, I want to mention that the building team is seeing the healthiest pipeline of opportunities since the mid-2000 boom. On the public agency front, alternative delivery models like design-build and general contractor/construction manager (GC/CM) is popular. These models allow for early participation and greatly increase collaboration with the design teams and owners. Our experience is that clients like the Port of Seattle and the University of Washington receive an accelerated construction timeline and a more innovative product.
Q: There is talk about more money being available in Olympia. What are you seeing?
Our civil team is keeping an eye on Olympia for signs of a transportation tax package and we are actively working with state agencies to restructure the GC/CM language for large civil infrastructure projects. What we want to see is an allowance for larger percentages of self-performed work — which is key in successfully delivering this type of project. But, overall, the outlook for public infrastructure work is strong.
Q: Tell us about your efforts to be innovative.
One thing we are doing is working on new ways to maximize efficiency through prefabrication. The process involves assembling building systems off-site, then delivering nearly completed elements to the project site for installation. For example, later this spring, we will install prefab bathroom pods in the new oncology wing at the Virginia Mason Medical Center. Healthcare is such a sensitive environment, so this approach will not only save our client time, but also minimize disruptions.
In another example, 2014 is our fourth year offering the Innovation Grant, a program that funds the research and development of innovative employee ideas, encouraging interaction with local colleges and universities.
Q: What's come out of this program so far?
One example is the InSite monitor, a mobile app used in sensitive facilities to provide our crews with real-time data on the levels of noise, vibration and dust being generated by construction activities.