2 min read June 2022 — In an interview with Invest:, DPR Construction’s Nashville Business Unit Leader John Vardaman discussed tech-driven projects, the organization’s involvement in the region, strategies to mitigate the challenges of the market and priorities going forward.
Now that we are halfway into 2022, what has been keeping DPR Construction busy over the past few months?
We are fortunate in that Middle Tennessee is a strong market for us given that the industries in this area are so diverse ranging from healthcare to manufacturing and commercial to technology. We continue to see strong demand in the advanced tech sector that includes mission critical work like data centers among other opportunities.
Commercial and healthcare are making a comeback after hitting a pause during COVID. In commercial we have work on tenant improvement, especially with business relocation, and many want to upgrade their facilities as part of their return to the office strategy. Healthcare continues to come back strong as those companies reorient to a bit more of a growth mindset after the pandemic. We have been fortunate to have some clients involved in doing their regional or corporate headquarters here in Nashville, and there continues to be a great deal of activity with new companies moving to the area.
What are you most proud of from your involvement in the region?
For us, it has been to deepen our roots here in Middle Tennessee through three avenues. We continue to hire some great people. Nashville is drawing people from other regions and there have been some great hires that bring a wealth of knowledge both for us and our clients. We are growing our relationships and using the relationship-based approach to doing business in a very positive manner. We are always trying to understand and get to know each other to succeed and do bigger and better things than just a business transaction. Lastly, we are continuing our involvement with the community to be embedded and indispensable to the community. That is a great way to be part of the fabric, ingrain yourself and do some good.
What are some of the tech-driven projects coming to the forefront?
There are a lot of conversations going on about prefabrication and modularization. I think that the bark is louder than the bite, possibly because we focus a lot on the big, very glamorous builds such as completely modular buildings, but there are a lot of great pieces in everyday projects. For example, prefabricated bathrooms make a ton of sense once you need a certain quantity, which almost always happens in large hospitality projects. They are driving labor away from the job site, which increases safety, quality and overall certainty of the project. This is the reason why I think it is going to pick up a lot more speed as labor problems continue, but it will also mean we will have to change the way we do business. To continue to incorporate these elements into the project, we must be designing around and scheduling around those prefabrication pieces to make them work with the overall project.
What strategies have you put in place to mitigate the impacts of the challenges in the current market?
Again, prefabrication is one whenever buying and designing ahead to eliminate risks to projects. Another key focus is information gathering and management. It is easy to sit and talk about the supply chain issues and the escalation, especially in some larger projects. You have to consider constraints in the overall length of the construction, not only when you are awarded a project. There are plenty of things that might arise that you can’t anticipate, so you must have a system in place to be rapidly notified and gather information on supply chain constraints and potential escalation issues throughout the life of the project. We try to invest resources to do that and watch global markets and commodities and aggregate that data into a tool that can be used by our front-line troops to make good decisions.
We’ve always been on projects where there are things which impact the supply chain here and there – for example, a hurricane in one part of the world and a labor strike in another. Those problems have always been around, the difference is that they seem to be happening more often. That is connected to our need to double down resources to track and increase the awareness of our project teams. We recognize we are only as good as the information we have onsite, so we are looking to compress global information in a way that is usable and actionable for those building the projects.
Do you see the current construction and planning trends continuing for the foreseeable future?
I think this is the new normal. While there is certain nostalgia to going back to the way things were, budgets are tighter and timelines are getting shorter. People want things to go faster, and while they understand cost increases, at the same time they want certainty and assurance of the decisions they make. Great shifts are happening worldwide, such as the effects of the pandemic and the situation in Ukraine, and it will take years before we see the ultimate impact. We are in the midst of all of them and we will continue to test our ability to manage limited resources.
What segments are experiencing the most growth and demand?
Construction will continue to be strong here in Middle Tennessee. It is a bit of a catch-up game. We need to continue to have infrastructure at the forefront of the conversation. For example, as a resident, I think the long-term health of the construction industry is very exciting, and we will continue to revisit the infrastructure to make it a desired destination and a livable city. Based on research that has been published, I think the manufacturing and tech companies will continue to grow in the region.
There are some great opportunities in Nashville and the city is very attractive for investment that has already started to take place. I think it will be a tide that lifts all boats as more people relocate into the area. We have a great labor pool, and the training is increasing. We continue to invest in higher education and healthcare which is linked to the population growth we are seeing as they continue to need those types of services.
What are the organization’s priorities moving forward?
We are a very tech-focused builder; we are software-driven by using the latest emerging technologies and leveraging them for the betterment of the project and the client. It is not just having technology for the sake of technology, it must add value to your operations, so we will continue to work on that. We will also work on having everyone on the team adopt them so we can benefit the client.
The other thing is about people, and recruiting the most talented individuals and making sure they are tech-savvy. As construction costs go up, our clients are expecting higher quality construction, better-performing buildings, and leveraging more technology both in the construction and in the final product. They want more efficient buildings and, as they become more complex, we must have people that can build them and understand the underlying technology of how these things are made and how they are meant to operate and interact with other systems that exist in the building.
What are some of the technologies that you foresee leveraging going forward?
We rely heavily on virtual design construction; it gives a great opportunity to model everything before you go and build. There is a gap to make sure that it is down to the right level with all our trade partners and the guys in the field are using it. There have been some instances where we have to improve on that. I’ve seen it work great and we must continue to expand, because it ultimately brings the vision of the client and the design team to greater clarity, so we keep pushing it as a way to build faster and better.
Additionally, it can be used in reality capture services. For example, if we are modifying an existing building, we can do a lot of this before we start and integrate it with what the design team is doing. It can also be used in new construction to capture any change that occurs during the building process and integrate the shifts into the design. This way we can alter a few things here and there and identify how to propagate it to the rest of the project.
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