2 min read December 2021 — Tampa Bay’s demographic influx is fueling construction demand while the industry continues to tackle labor shortages, a stressed supply chain and material price hikes. Mark Stevens, president of Stevens Construction, shares his insights on the future of the construction landscape for the area.
What were the successful measures implemented by Stevens Construction to manage this unprecedented period of time?
There are always challenges when you own a business and those challenges always change, what defines a successful business is how it overcomes the challenges. COVID presented different challenges in different markets for us. In Fort Myers, we really did not see a slowdown. We saw needs and demand for our services that we did not anticipate. That said, in Fort Myers, we did not skip a beat and picked up more work than we would have without COVID, which is the opposite of what we expected. In Tampa, it was a bit of a different story. Our Tampa and Orlando offices had predominantly acute care hospital work pre-COVID and the hospitals were suspending our work with no restart date so we were left with uncertainty as to when and if those projects would resume.
One of the ways we are adapting in this unprecedented time is to slightly rebrand, making our Tampa Bay and Central Florida offices more resilient to things like COVID and recessions by expanding to market sectors outside of acute healthcare.
Severe supply chain issues and labor shortages are a challenge in this unprecedented time. Two years ago, the challenge was getting the work and the people to do it. Now, the central issue is completing the project within the client’s time and cost expectations, with the prevalent challenge of having the labor force to do so. Fortunately for us, we are not just general contractors. We are involved very early in the development and construction process, so we have more time to plan our projects which ultimately benefits the client in time and cost. The more time we have to plan a project, the better execution of the construction.
How has demand for your services shifted over the past year?
The demand over all our markets has increased. Healthcare, senior care and commercial projects are a top priority for us, however we also have vast experience in hospitality projects with the PopStroke locations we are building throughout the state. PopStroke is a growing dining and golf experience with courses designed by a prominent professional golfer. We’ve completed one location in Fort Myers and currently have PopStroke projects under construction in Orlando and Sarasota with more to come.
Acute care hospital work has taken a step back, although it is starting to somewhat rebound recently only because providers are thinking about how COVID changed how healthcare services are being delivered.
Is asset repurposing trending in Tampa Bay?
The reality is there are not as many attractive sites as there once were. We are now seeing more adaptive reuse of existing buildings, or at least more demand for adaptive reuse of existing buildings than we saw in years past. We are starting to look at more vacant retail properties for clients to redevelop those properties, which will continue as the market shifts.
Retail is going to be a sector where we will see more changes in building use. However, that poses a different set of challenges because there is only so much that can be done with codes and zoning. It is not as simple as people may think to convert a retail building into another use. Over time working with community stakeholders to redevelop existing properties is going to be an educational process to adjust how government agencies deal with the conversion of existing properties.
Are there any other trends that you are currently seeing in the construction market?
Technology has become more prevalent in how we are going about our projects both in the office and the field. Our field team spends 30% – 40% of their day using technology, between client and subcontractor meetings, coordination meetings with design teams, a significant surge from 10% pre-pandemic. The ongoing challenge is the supply chain shortage, procuring materials as we are walking through the design phase with clients. To tackle this, we are using more sophisticated scheduling technologies to analyze alternative materials, establish faster timelines and evaluate the costs and alternate construction methods applicable for these alternatives.
Another trend is BIM (Building Information Modeling) which models in 3-D all of the structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems within the building plans to look for conflicts before construction begins, making the whole design process more efficient.
Back in 2019, we would not see that type of modeling on a project that was less than $50 million. Now, as more people adopt the technology, we are seeing it on smaller projects that we never would have seen before. As an industry, we were leaning that way anyway, but COVID fast forwarded that by 10 years.
What measures are you implementing to recruit and retain talent?
Two years ago, we completed a strategic planning workshop with a comprehensive SWOT analysis and we realized that our biggest challenge moving forward is finding the best and brightest people. Out of that, our mission statement became to identify, hire and retain the very best people. At the same time, we dug deeper to support that mission and hired a full-time HR professional to focus on recruiting. We are now focusing on the training and retention part of our mission along with revisiting our benefits and our insurance offerings.
What are the advantages of doing businesses in Tampa Bay?
Tampa Bay is poised for continued growth as it’s a hot bed destination for new folks coming in. To support the growth, Tampa needs to continue to focus on its infrastructure. Some of the attractive parts of Tampa are not only the potential for growth, but that it is a huge market with diversity in the types of work that are available. We have clients in other areas that continue bringing us projects in Tampa, for example we have an existing client in Venice who awarded us a $120 million senior living healthcare project in downtown St. Petersburg.
We have a mix of projects in the area including a luxury furniture showroom and warehouse, a coastal clubhouse renovation, an attorney’s office and PopStroke.
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