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May 11, 2018

Survey: Skanska USA

Image by Integrus Architecture
Skanska was recently awarded a $77.9 million GM/CM contract to build a new high school and middle school in Silverdale.

Specialty: Construction and commercial development

Management: Chris Toher, executive vice president and general manager; Murphy McCullough, executive vice president

Founded: 1946

Headquarters: New York City (U.S.); Stockholm (global)

2017 revenues: $7.3 billion (U.S.); $18.8 billion (global)

Projected 2018 revenues: N/A

Projects: 2+U, a 38-story office tower in downtown Seattle; 191,000-square-foot University of Washington Life Sciences Building and 15,000-square-foot research greenhouse in Seattle; 325,000-square-foot Central Kitsap middle and high schools in Silverdale

Chris Toher, executive vice president and general manager of Skanka’s Seattle office, said the company is building 30 to 35 projects locally — fewer than in the past.

But that’s not for lack of ambition.

“We are doing more large-scale, complicated projects than ever before,” he said.

Projects underway include 2+U, a 38-story office tower in downtown Seattle; Nexus, a 41-story condo tower in the Denny Triangle; and the Life Sciences Building on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus.

The company’s commercial development division has announced plans for a 30-story apartment building in Belltown — its fifth development in the area since the division began operating locally in 2011.

Growth cycle

The boom times don’t appear to be letting up. Whereas builders once knew to count on three- to five-year growth cycles, this one just seems to keep going and going.

Toher ticked off a list of Skanska market specialties that all seem to be strong or on an upswing: health care, commercial office, K-12, higher ed and aviation.

Does he see any of these areas growing or sputtering in the near future?

“Every time I think I know the answer to that, I’m proven wrong,” he said.

Head tax fallout

One thing that could throw sand in the gears is a proposed “head tax,” which the city would levy on certain employers to raise $75 million a year for housing services. One of those employers, Amazon, sent shock waves through the city when said it will pause its considerable construction plans if it’s stuck paying the tax.

“We will be interested to see what happens with the head tax,” Toher said. “We’ll see what that all means to the market.”

A different long-term concern is the aging workforce and shortage of labor.

Toher said the staffing issue “is the single biggest thing we face in this industry.”

When crews are stretched thin, they can face longer hours on the jobsite and become more prone to accidents and injuries, something Toher is eager to avoid.

“One thing we’re talking about for future projects is scheduling more thoughtfully,” he said.

That could mean having conversations with owners early on to reset their expectations about how quickly their projects can be completed.

Expanded recruiting

On the recruiting front, Skanska is looking for white-collar staff outside its usual haunts in university engineering and construction management programs. People new to the field can learn what they need to know on the job if they arrive with great communication skills, curious minds, and a desire to learn and grow, Toher said.

The company is advertising at Seattle University, the UW and WSU business schools, and in-state liberal arts schools, where it’s never recruited before.

Looking ahead, Toher said Skanska is doing more design-build work than ever before — about 25 percent of its volume — and he expects that number to get larger. He attributes its popularity to the fact it offers one-stop shopping for owners, and it encourages architectural plans that are buildable from the get-go.

“Hopefully, you design (the project) just once,” he said.

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