Va. Contractor Bends The Learning Curve
When HITT Contracting Inc. completed its 80th year in business in 2017, the Falls Church, Va.-based builder wasted no time making its 81st year memorable, too. HITT began 2018 with a handoff of operating management responsibilities to a new team made up, for the first time, of non-Hitt family members—including Kim Roy, one of the few women to hold a CEO role among ENR’s Top 100 contractors.
HITT also continued its decade-long organic growth trend by capitalizing on the construction boom in data centers and other mission-critical facilities in its Northern Virginia backyard. It has delivered more than 150 megawatts of essential IT infrastructure during the year for “enterprise, hyperscale and colocation” data center firms and telecommunications clients. Contract terms bar HITT from disclosing the names of most of these clients.
HITT also enjoyed continued growth last year in the region’s corporate office and interior construction sectors, including building-out 165,000 sq ft of high-end interior space at General Dynamics’ new Reston, Va., headquarters. HITT’s solid relationships with major corporate clients have helped expand the firm’s footprint well beyond the MidAtlantic region. “We have established a strong presence on the East Coast over the last 80 years, and have experienced exceptional growth in markets such as Atlanta and New York,” Roy says. “We’ve invested in Texas and will continue to build our presence in multiple markets in the state while also growing our presence on the West Coast.”
All of this growth has helped lift 2018 regional revenue to $1.4 billion, placing HITT among ENR MidAtlantic’s top three contractors for the first time. HITT ranked No. 5 on last year’s survey with $1.1 billion in regional revenue.
HITT also stepped up its charitable and community outreach efforts through a corporate responsibility program that earned local honors from the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks’ DC/Maryland Chapter. HITT enhanced the program’s volunteer participation last year by establishing a nationwide team of more than 45 employee “ambassadors” who spearhead work in local communities. HITT employees donated more than 3,500 hours to the charities, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and Habitat for Humanity.
These accomplishments alone—along with the opening of new regional offices—merit ENR MidAtlantic Contractor of the Year honors. But what truly sets HITT apart is its new collaborative construction research and development facility, which opened in June. The facility is one of the Washington, D.C., area’s first cross-laminated timber (CLT) structures. “Our mission is to disrupt the construction industry,” says Drew Mucci, co-president. “If we don’t, we’re just offering the same services as everyone else.”
Located near the firm’s headquarters, HITT’s new R&D facility, known as the Co|Lab, was designed in collaboration with architect William McDonough + Partners to provide a collaborative environment among design industry and academic partners to test emerging materials, approaches and technologies.
In addition to being built with CLT, Co|Lab’s use of high-efficiency building systems, solar arrays, an exterior computerized green wall and millwork formed from the reuse of onsite trees earned the project LEED v4 Platinum certification. HITT plans to pursue Petal Certification from the International Living Future Institute later this year.
Co|Lab figures prominently in HITT’s future, providing a foundation for innovation and idea-sharing that Mucci says will separate the company within the industry. “With so many ideas in construction that our people are excited about, we needed a place to test them,” Mucci says. And with the growing interest in net-zero energy construction, “doing a project like this for ourselves gives us experience we can share with our clients.”
Taking advantage of a double-height bay space, some of Co|Lab’s initial research efforts include designing more flexible biocontainment areas for health care facilities and evaluating the durability of calcium carbonate bricks as pavers and thin veneer elements.
Co|Lab, along with forays into virtual and augmented reality, have proven popular with HITT’s employees as well. “People jump at opportunities to be on the cutting edge of construction technology,” says Jake Pollack, a senior project manager at the company.
Mucci credits Jim Millar and Brett Hitt, HITT Contracting’s third-generation family owners and former co-presidents, for bringing about last year’s smooth leadership transition. Mucci and Jeremy Bardin now share the responsibilities of president. Roy is also a former Hitt executive vice president.
“Jim and Brett started the thought processes for this several years ago,” Mucci explains. “Though still in their prime to run the organization, they saw the need for a new generation of leaders to compete in this market and change the model as necessary to be competitive in the future.”
With Millar and Hitt now serving as co-chairmen of HITT’s newly formed board of directors, Mucci, Bardin and Roy have specific areas of oversight. “Rather than simply naming a successor to each role, bringing the three of us in as a team doesn’t put the onus on one person to handle things,” Mucci says. At the same time, he adds, “It’s up to us to carry HITT forward to the next 10 years and beyond.”
Part of the strategy, Roy says, is to add depth to HITT’s national resources, structured around market expertise rather than being constrained by geography. “These nimble teams are located in co-working spaces or at client sites,” she says, “and can easily respond to needs across the company as they arise.”
Mucci is hopeful that HITT’s envelope-pushing focus will help the company in attracting new talent. It has a partnership with Virginia Tech’s Myers-Lawson School of Construction that has led to transferring practical management aspects from HITT’s operations side into the classroom in order to better prepare students to step immediately into leadership roles upon graduation.
The Hitt family has also donated $9 million to support the creation of the school’s new Intelligent Infrastructure and Construction complex that will bring together many of the school’s high-tech building programs.
The firm’s partnerships with high schools and community colleges “train young people who may be unable or not ready to attend college,” says Mucci, noting that cultural and educational diversity is considered when hiring. “A background in construction management is not a prerequisite to contribute to our business,” he says.
Among HITT’s top corporate customers is Capital One, with HITT providing interior construction services nationwide, including the interiors for an 850,000-sq-ft tower currently underway at the banking company’s Tysons Corner, Va., campus.
“They are by far the best interior contractor we deal with,” says Barry Mark, Capital One’s vice president of design and construction. “They have a pretty unending goal of satisfying the customer.”
Mark adds, “You never hear them say something isn’t possible. They find a way to make it happen and deliver a good quality product.”
More recently, HITT has strengthened its presence closer to home, establishing new offices in Richmond and Raleigh, partly in response to the potential for more technology infrastructure projects nearby. “We also see opportunities for organic growth driven by our enterprise clients,” Mucci says. “The Richmond area offers a quality of life different from Washington, D.C., yet it’s less than two hours away.”
HITT is among many regional contractors making the most of a sustained economic expansion. But Mucci says the foresight to have invested early in mission-critical and data center project pursuits has paid off in a big way, positioning the company among the nation’s leading contractors for R&D facilities.
Anthony Caracino Sr., vice president of global construction for data center developer Digital Realty, says, “They’ve helped us with analytics and analysis to find new ways to save costs during construction, including changing methods and materials where it makes sense.”
Mucci is cautiously optimistic about the MidAtlantic market’s ability to retain its strength for the foreseeable future. Health care and technology are sure to be strong drivers in the future, he says, as will logistics. But Mucci emphasizes that HITT aims to be multi-market focused. By building strong relationships in resilient markets, he says, “We’ll already be established if things change.”