Lufkin Industries, a U.S.-based manufacturer of oil-field pumps and power transmission products, is building a new hub in Romania to serve the European, Middle Eastern and Central Asian markets. Architect-engineer-constructor Epstein, based in Chicago, is performing the design-build job of Lufkin’s manufacturing complex in Ploiesti, an industrial center. One factor in Epstein’s favor was that it had worked previously in Ploiesti for another American client.

Lufkin’s project consists of a 300,000-sq-ft manufacturing building, a 38,000-sq-ft post-production plant and a single-story, 12,000-sq-ft office building. The $126-million project broke ground in October 2010. The precast concrete structure is fully erected for the post-production building, and concrete foundations now are being cast for the other two buildings. The project is expected to be completed during the second quarter of 2012.

Randy Tharp, international project director for Epstein, described how he brought U.S. management techniques to the Lufkin project. “Normally, Romanians work in a sequential pattern, but we did things to work in parallel and … on multiple fronts. By having one crew put in pipe while another crew worked nearby finishing floors, we were able to fast-track.”

On both its Romanian projects, Epstein has worked almost exclusively with Romanian subcontractors. Tharp explained that the most challenging aspect of working in Romania is raising the workers’ expectations of their own capabilities. “Getting them to overcome their past perceptions about what is possible—with the skill and knowledge they have, they can get better results. We showed them new ways to do work and meet the project’s quality, schedule and budget objectives.” Speaking about the first project they did in Romania, Tharp says, “My goal was to finish in five months. The Romanians said it would take one year. They did it in five months.”

The local construction labor market has experienced a lot of change, according to Tharp. “Romania has had a lot of their skilled trades go overseas or to Western Europe to make more money. As a consequence, two or three years ago during a building boom here, there was a shortage [of well- trained workers]. But now the workforce is developing again,” he says.

Other aspects of the project have gone well. “Material supplies have been very good. I’ve been surprised. Some technical equipment, like elevators, has come from Western Europe, but delivery has not been a problem,” Tharp says. Further, currency fluctuation has not been a factor. “The euro is pretty much the standard for contracts. Romanians have gravitated to the euro to avoid instability.”

Tharp added, “I’m glad to say we haven’t faced corruption. We avoid public projects. The visibility of the project helped. There’s been no problem with permitting.”