As California’s construction industry continues to feel the recession’s pinch, some of the state’s top contractors are tightening their tool belts and concentrating on their company’s individual talents to stay ahead in the game.

“The biggest challenge right now is a lot more competition on projects,” says Michael Scribner, president and CEO of San Francisco-based BCCI. “It used to be that we were competing against maybe two or three contractors on a project and now there could be between eight and 10.”

Scribner, whose company specializes in interiors work around the Bay Area, says BCCI is staying busy by improving cost modeling and quality control.

“Our cost-modeling tools have been a big factor in our ability to provide accurate pricing early in the preconstruction phase and ultimately helped us increase backlog year on year by 85% beginning in 2010,” he says. “Another big differentiator is our quality-control program, which has achieved in excess of 31 zero punch-list projects in the last 18 months.”

Gavin Keith, project executive with Redwood City-based DPR, agrees the market is “incredibly competitive” and says his company is keeping busy by focusing on core markets such as healthcare.

“Healthcare is the backbone of our backlog going through the next couple years,” says Keith, whose company also specializes in corporate office and manufacturing plant construction. “It is about 40% of our backlog right now, which is more than the usual 25%.”

“The only way we can be competitive is by being different. If we are looking at a bid and can’t answer the question of what makes us different on this job, then we really do question why we are bidding it, because the competition is so fierce.”
— Curt Weltz, Flatiron Construction Corp.

The company is currently working on the $660-million, 360-bed Pomerado Hospital Palomar Medical Center West in Escondido, one of the largest projects currently under construction in the state, and the $320-million, 230,000-sq-ft Sutter Medical Center in Castro Valley, which will offer 130 acute-care beds and a 34-bed universal care center.

The company is also in preconstruction on the $1.6-billion, 878,000-sq-ft UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay in San Francisco, which will open in 2014 with 289 beds. Led by Anshen + Allen architects of San Francisco; Cambridge CM Inc. of Palo Alto, project management consultants; and Redwood City’s DPR, the project will utilize building information modeling software and use an integrated project delivery method.

Mike Scribner, BCCI
Gavin Keith, DPR
Curt Weltz, FLATIRON Construction

Meanwhile, Dan Rogers, chief operating officer with Santa Clara-based Blach Construction, says his company is keep-ing pace in an “ultracompetitive market” by “focusing more than ever on our existing client base and maintaining those relationships,” and by concentrating on two markets.

“We are going to stay laser-focused on healthcare and education for the balance of this downturn,” says Rogers, whose company saw its revenue go up about 10% in 2009 and is projecting similar numbers this year.

One of the company’s current projects is a new $27-million, design-build, multidisciplinary classroom building...