By Max Crampton-Thomas
4 min read September 2019 — It seems like more cranes are dotting the downtown Fort Lauderdale skyline every week as new developments emerge from the ground at a record rate. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently had the opportunity to speak with two of the leading constructors in South Florida, Ryan Romanchuk, the Fort Lauderdale business unit leader for DPR Construction, and Brian Sudduth, the president of Miller Construction. The wide-ranging conversations touched on trends in the sector and how their companies are adapting to these, along with the challenges the industry faces.
What emerging trends are impacting the construction industry and how are you adapting to these?
Ryan Romanchuk: There is a strong movement toward prefabrication similar to what we’ve seen in other parts of the world outside of the United States. It is a movement to become smarter as an industry as our labor costs go up and we move more into a manufacturing environment. We are looking for different components that we can prefabricate off-site, which in turn helps to limit the amount of manpower needed on-site, making our project safer and resulting in a higher quality product. One of the constraints of prefabrication is that it requires a certain level of repeatability to make economic sense for a project. However, as our technological tools get more sophisticated we are going to start to push toward digital fabrication. It’s the idea that every project can be unique but still be prefabricated based on building it virtually first.
Brian Sudduth: Office space construction has been slower over the past several years, but we are now starting to see more opportunities for development and redevelopment of office space. The need for construction in hospitality has continued to offer opportunities, and there is still heavy demand for our services in the industrial market. The residential, multifamily market is slowing down, but we have not typically participated in these sectors. I think this is part of the reason why we are seeing opportunities for Miller Construction growing and why 2020 will be just as good if not better for our business.
What is an ongoing challenge the construction industry faces?
Romanchuk: We are working to incorporate data-driven decision-making into all aspects of the business and really moving toward predictive analytics. Every construction project produces so much data but at the same time every project is so unique, which makes it challenging to harness the data produced. Our ability to harness our data as an industry will make us more predictable and at the end of the day that is what most if not all our clients want: predictable outcomes.
Sudduth: The challenge of finding labor in construction is not limited to just identifying people for management roles; it is also finding quality craftsmen to work on these jobs. There are more opportunities than available workers in the marketplace. People leaving Florida and leaving the industry all together during the recession was one factor, but we also have a skills gap because for the last decade, high-school students were encouraged to go to college rather than consider vocational training for things like electrical, plumbing and welding. Those programs are finally seeing a resurgence, but that gap has had an effect on available labor.
What are the factors that contribute to the longevity of your company?
Romanchuk: DPR is and always has been a self-performing general contractor. It really centers around the belief that we are builders at heart and our central belief as a company to respect the individual. This is why we don’t believe in “piece work” and believe in a fair and honest hourly wage and benefits such as health, 401K and paid care leave for all our craft employees. We have had high levels of retention and are investing in training our employees to make sure they continue to grow their skillset and have upward mobility within DPR. Being a self-performing contractor requires additional resources, time and capital, but we control our own destiny, carry forward respect for the individual and can be part of our industry working to solve the labor gap.
Sudduth: The longevity of our company is attributed to our business model of always putting our clients first. We never try to chase a revenue number or a product type. Instead, we focus our efforts on quality clients, and through the years we have done a good job of selecting clients that are looking for a long-lasting partnership. We always look out for their best interests, and in return people appreciate that and come back to us whenever they have new projects. We have never been a company that tries to be the biggest. Our goal has always been to be the best construction company.