After more than century of building in the Intermountain West, Okland Construction is still on a roll. Privately held since its founding by immigrant Norwegian carpenter John Okland in 1918, the company recorded its best year ever in 2019, with $850.5 million in revenue.
That total earned Okland a No. 1 ranking among Intermountain contracting firms this year. It also represents a 10.8% gain over the firm’s 2018 mark of $767.5 million. Because of Okland’s record growth and continuing leadership among regional contractors, ENR Mountain States has selected it as 2020 Intermountain Contractor of the Year.
Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Okland has been busy. Major ongoing and recently completed projects include Salt Lake International Airport’s 30-gate, $821-million North Concourse; the $750-million Utah State Prison relocation, a new corrections facility that will house more than 4,000 inmates; a $96-million manufacturing facility for medical test kit maker BioFire Diagnostics in West Valley, Utah; the 95 South State office tower, a 25-story high-rise in downtown Salt Lake City that will feature curved glass corners; and Intermountain Healthcare’s new Spanish Fork Hospital, a 172,000-sq-ft medical center in Spanish Fork, Utah.
Nonetheless, President Brett Okland—great-grandson of company founder John Okland—says the company did lose “a handful” of projects to the pandemic and others have been placed on hold. He expects revenue to keep growing but says, “maybe not at the trajectory that we’ve seen. We have been negatively impacted for certain, but we feel very fortunate to be in an industry building things that are justified as essential, like airports, hospitals and so on.”
One project directly related to the coronavirus has been the expedited completion of the BioFire Diagnostics manufacturing plant in West Valley, Utah. The company makes test kits for a variety of ailments, including COVID-19. The factory, whose complex mechanical and electrical systems represent more than half of the $96-million construction budget, was finished a month ahead of an already aggressive 20-month schedule, in part so that the firm could begin producing a respiratory-disease kit that includes a test for coronavirus.
Bill Phifer, vice president of facilities at BioFire Diagnostics, says the project brought out the best in Okland, which also is breaking ground on the biotech firm’s $100-million administration building next door to the plant.
“This is the third major project I’ve done with Okland,” says Phifer. “They’re very direct, very transparent, and we’ve established a great team relationship with them and our design firm [Salt Lake City-based FFKR Architects]. And, fundamentally, we approach every problem with a search for solutions. No one’s worrying about why we have the problem. Oftentimes, it’s no one’s fault, of course—it’s just changes to our needs—and a collaborative approach.”
The straightforward philosophy noted by Phifer represents one of Okland’s primary goals. That’s especially the case with estimating. Jeremy Blanck, who oversees marketing and preconstruction, considers accuracy critical to customer satisfaction.
“Sometimes the perception of what a project might cost going in and what a project might cost going out are two different numbers to owners,” Blanck says. “I think we probably are a little more accurate on what that upfront cost is. And, hopefully, if you do your job right, the cost going in and the cost going out should be really close. When you start having big disparities, you start having conflict and change orders and a lot of issues with the owner.
“Sometimes we might be a little higher priced. But at the end of the day, we deliver a better building, our schedules are on time and we take a lot of risk out for the owner,” Blanck says. “I think that’s why we get a lot of repeat business. Clients would not come to us time after time if they thought they were paying a premium and it wasn’t worth some type of value.”
Another repeat Okland customer is owner’s representative, investor and broker Mike Ferro of InterNet Properties, a commercial real estate firm in Salt Lake City. Ferro oversaw construction of BioFire Diagnostics’ manufacturing plant and another local lab-office-manufacturing complex. He is the owner’s rep for the administration building now underway—all of them Okland projects. He also worked with Okland back in 2013 on a top-to-bottom conversion of the Salt Lake City Tribune Building into apartments and a computer science college.
Of the 500,000-sq-ft lab-office-manufacturing building for BioFire Diagnostics, Ferro says, “It was one of the best examples of precision and quality and cooperation with all of the subcontractors that I’ve ever been a part of.” He adds that Okland still addresses issues when required on the Tribune Building and refers him to other providers when he needs fixes outside the firm’s expertise.
During its 100-plus years, Okland has developed close ties with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as the growing public sector in Utah. The company has worked on numerous LDS temples in Utah, Hawaii, Arizona, Idaho, California and Washington, D.C., in addition to projects on the campuses of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Rexburg, Idaho.
Okland has built K-12 schools throughout Utah, and over the past few years has completed significant projects at the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University.
Jared Doxey, director of construction for North America for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says, “I call Okland one of our premier partners. Just up and down the line—in how they work with owners, do preconstruction work, estimating, helping to find value and more efficient approaches to designs, to integrated project delivery, they just have a breadth and depth in their company that’s second to none. They’ve got senior people that I consider some of the best, if not the best, in the Intermountain West.”
Beyond its presence in health care, religious institutions, higher education and commercial construction, Okland is diversifying into the manufacturing sector with its projects for BioFire Diagnostics and other customers, as well as distribution centers for Amazon and data centers for tech clients. The company recently expanded its geographical reach with a new office in Boise, where key customers include computer chip maker Micron Technology and developers Ball Ventures Ahlquist and the Gardner Co.
Both Blanck and Brett Okland say executives are thinking about widening the company’s footprint even further, although they’re not naming specific targets yet. Okland says opening another office would not only help the company expand, but also do so in a family-friendly way, allowing employees to put down roots rather than commuting hundreds of miles to jobsites.
Okland says aspirations for expansion are not just geographical but also market-based; the company plans to continue its push for work in traditional sectors while renewing forays into the manufacturing, technology and distribution markets.
Challenges include the coronavirus pandemic in the short term and the industry’s chronic labor shortage in the longer term, Okland says. Still, he’s optimistic. “We’re just fortunate to be in an industry that delivers value and enhances people’s lives,” he says. “We’re really bullish on the future.”