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March 25, 2010
UNTIL RECENTLY, the Schuchart Corp. didn't see a need to expand beyond Puget Sound.
Decades of relationship-building with companies such as Boeing and Starbucks provided the commercial contractor with ample work.
But when the opportunity arose last year to open another office in South Carolina, President George Schuchart said it was too good to pass up.
He's still getting used to the distance between offices.
“This is the first time we've opened another office,” said Schuchart. “I can't think of a place much farther from Seattle than this. Technology has made it easier than what it would have been just a few years ago.”
The opening of the new office, in Charleston, coincides with the build-out of Boeing's 787 final assembly plant in Charleston. Schuchart has set up the new office with a skeleton crew of three employees, on the strong assumption that Boeing will be hiring his company for a range of construction work and the office will expand accordingly.
“Our hope is to do what we've traditionally done: smaller building construction,” Schuchart said. “After the (final assembly) building is finished, there will be modifications that we can do.”
Schuchart Corp.'s expansion into Charleston is a strategic move to position the company for additional Boeing work. But it also shows the 22-year-old company's confidence that the Charleston area and greater Southeast region are fertile ground for expanding the company by exploring new relationships.
“When Boeing announced it was coming to South Carolina, this was a natural expansion,” said Chris Burrell, who has been hired by Schuchart Corp. to lead the new office and be the company's Southeast regional manager. “They were looking to grow.”
Schuchart, which has already done work for Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks in the Seattle region, will be able to find new work for those companies and their subsidiaries in the South, Burrell said.
In addition, Burrell said Schuchart can pursue work with regional companies such as Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah, Ga., and BMW, which has an X5 plant in Greenville, S.C.
“It's a good location — not only to service clients in Charleston, but also other regional entities,” he said.
Burrell said there is “not anything (written) in stone with Boeing,” in terms of work that the company will do. But both he and Schuchart said they are confident that by 2011 the company will be doing work for the Chicago-based aerospace giant.
“We would be servicing Boeing inside of the fence,” said Burrell, referring to working on modifications to the plant now being built. “Boeing is a huge plant and there is always modifying, improving, updating and maintaining to do. We'll come in after the box is up and work with Boeing on whatever needs there might be.”
The design-build team on the 787 Dreamliner plant is a joint venture of BE&K Building Group and Turner Construction, with design partner BRPH.
Schuchart's work in the Northwest has focused on construction, renovation and tenant improvement, which is what the company plans to do in the South as well, Schuchart said.
The move may seem risky at a time when construction has been hurt badly by a slow economy and lack of lending to developers.
But Schuchart said construction in South Carolina and that region is made easier by less stringent development laws.
“People there are very open to meeting with new contractors, and have given us the opportunity to propose our services to them,” Schuchart said. “It's quite different than what we've experienced in the Northwest. It's a much more welcoming society and the barrier to entry is lower than our hometown.”
He said “permitting would just be exhausting” and “would take years” to complete some of the construction projects that have been done in recent years in South Carolina. “The business climate is much more friendly than in (Washington) state,” he said. “They want your business.”
In addition to seeking more work with Boeing, Amazon and Microsoft in the South, Schuchart will pursue work in the alternative energy field. Clemson University received nearly $100 million in grants last year to build a large-scale wind turbine drive train facility.
In addition, IMO Group, a German manufacturer of wind turbine parts, announced recently it will build a $47 million facility in Summerville, S.C.
Burrell said, to his knowledge, Schuchart is the first Seattle-based construction company to move into the Charleston market.
“In coming years, as aspects of the economy come back, this particular part of the region has been carved out as one of the first to come back from the economic downturn,” he said. “So us being in a position here is just a great think. Boeing is going to add a lot to the area and change the landscape and we want to be here to help them in any way we can.”