The construction industry certainly got walloped in the Great Recession. In 2010, unemployment in the industry neared 25%, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. The impact was especially pronounced in the Southwest, primarily because of the booms that had marked the region's growth for more than 50 years.
During the downturn, Suntec Concrete, Phoenix, saw its work force trimmed to nearly 250—about a 60% decrease from pre-recession boom times.
But while no one wants to see a downturn, the initiatives and decisions that Suntec management made during those difficult times allowed the company to position itself for even greater success once work was again plentiful. As a result of these achievements, Suntec has been named ENR Southwest's Specialty Contractor of the Year.
According to Suntec, the company took advantage of the slowdown to leverage the power of BIM as an integral part of its work process, thereby making the company much more efficient by increasing the speed and lowering the cost of its services.
"It is something now that our clients use and expect," says Derek Wright, vice president of Suntec. "We get the return on the investment we spend up front by eliminating mistakes and building a better product."
In 2010, before it was apparent that the industry would begin its slow recovery, Suntec took a chance to invest not only in BIM but in the remaining staff that had not been part of earlier layoffs. Jerry Barnier, president, says those two decisions have made all of the difference in helping the company bounce back strongly from the recession.
"We kind of saw 2010 as the plank where we got a chance to go from a recovery to a growth company again," he says. "We talked amongst the ownership group that maybe it is time to draw a line in the sand and invest some money—to not go past this point. We didn't see any changes in the market yet, but we thought we had a great nucleus of talent. "
Rather than cutting wages like some other subcontractors were doing, Suntec asked for more productivity from the staff, which helped position the firm for growth, Barnier says.
"The time we had back then, we used really wisely," he says. "We really improved our technology and our training. We got all of our programs as refined as we thought we could get them." The investment has paid off now that the company's workload has increased dramatically.
Revenue Tells the Story
The numbers bear out the success Suntec has enjoyed since 2010. Three years ago, the company reported $55 million in revenue. That rose to $75 million two years ago and was in excess of $125 million in 2012. The company steadily rose up the ENR Southwest Top Specialty Contractor rankings during that time, jumping from No. 10 to No. 7 in 2011 and to No. 2 for 2012.
As always, the revenue gains were accomplished by the company landing some of the most high-profile concrete projects in the state of Arizona over the past several years. Suntec rarely works outside of the state for logistical and supply reasons.
Much of that recent work was on projects related to Arizona State University and the University of Arizona in downtown Phoenix and Tucson. Of note is the Roosevelt Point Apartments, which consists of two high-rise buildings totaling 357,000 sq ft plus a 149,500-sq-ft parking garage. Suntec performed structural, tilt panel, foundations, finish and flatwork for Phoenix-based Hardison/Downey, the general contractor for the project.
Government work is also a big part of Suntec's portfolio, and in 2012, the company provided structural, foundations, finish and flatwork for Phoenix-based general contractor D.L. Withers on the nearly $100- million facility built to house the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in downtown Phoenix. Suntec poured 50,200 sq ft of slab-on-grade, 71,680 sq ft of cast in-place deck and 89,000 sq ft of slab-on-deck concrete.
Suntec works extensively in other building sectors too. In 2012, the company worked on the Dick's Sporting Goods distribution facility in Goodyear, Ariz., in the far western portion of the Phoenix metropolitan area. For the 720,000-sq-ft facility, Suntec performed tilt panel, foundations, finish and flatwork. Also included in the work was a 100,000-sq-ft equipment mezzanine and 850,000 sq ft of exterior concrete paving.