Significant year-to-year changes among ENR’s national Top 400 Contractors are not unusual. But Phoenix-based Willmeng Construction’s vault from outside the rankings to No. 129 on this year’s list evidences the big difference a strong year can make.

Taking advantage of Arizona’s industrial technology and commercial construction market, Willmeng reported $870 million in 2022 revenue and completed more than 12.5 million sq ft of projects during the year. Industrial work, long one of Willmeng’s strongest areas, earned the company a ranking of No. 12 nationally in this sector.

Among the year’s completed assignments were a 90,000-sq-ft addition to Northrup Grumman’s Tactical Space Division Production Facility in Gilbert and electric vehicle manufacturer Electra Meccanica’s new 235,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility adjacent to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport. Both projects were recognized recently in AZ Big Media’s annual Real Estate Development (RED) Awards, which recognize high-profile accomplishments across Arizona’s commercial real estate industry.

Those honors followed a similarly successful 2022 “awards season,” during which Willmeng received General Contractor of the Year recognition from both the RED Awards and NAIOP Arizona, which also named the firm the year’s top Tenant Improvement Contractor.

Electra Meccanica

Willmeng recently completed construction of this manufacturing and office complex for Electra Meccanica in Mesa, Ariz.
Photo courtesy of Small Giants

That Willmeng has garnered so much success in recent months is no surprise to developers and other clients that have regularly brought projects to the 46-year-old company, which holds the distinction of being Arizona’s largest privately owned general construction firm.

Danny Swancey, partner with developer ViaWest Group, says Willmeng’s success stems in part from a culture of putting others’ needs ahead of its own.

“Their team is great at anticipatory thinking, giving them the ability to avoid and mitigate problems,” says Swancey, whose current collaborations with Willmeng include a 600,000-sq-ft build-to-suit warehouse space for kitchen appliance manufacturer Sub-Zero Group and the redevelopment of the 18-acre former headquarters for Insight Enterprises in Tempe into a new logistics park.

“Their team is great at anticipatory thinking, giving them the ability to avoid and mitigate problems.”
—Danny Swancey, Partner, ViaWest Group

Swancey adds that Willmeng’s thoughtful, people-first approach makes the construction experience smooth and enjoyable despite the inevitable challenges that may crop up from time to time.

Cathy Exeter, senior vice president for Douglas Allred Co., praises Willmeng’s “positive, can-do mentality” as well as the firm’s attention to detail and its ability to work well with city municipalities and hit goals for project budgets.

Exeter, who has worked on a variety of projects with Willmeng for more than a decade, adds that the contractor has high expectations for every employee and sub on a jobsite.

“They take ownership in each project, never pointing the finger to others, but assuming the project as a whole,” she says.

Willmeng CEO James Murphy, who has helmed the firm since 2006, says the past year’s successes stem from having a strong, highly experienced and motivated internal organization.

“The opportunities that we were able to take advantage of were all due to our team being up to the challenge and delivering great results,” Murphy says. And while the past few years have presented a variety of challenges to contractors, Murphy is proud of the way his team has remained positive and forward thinking.

“This helped us stay on top of most obstacles that could derail a project,” he says.

Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega

Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega, second from left, speaks with Willmeng CEO James Murphy, center, and other project team members during a walkthrough of the renovated Scottsdale Civic Center.
Photo courtesy of Small Giants

Proactive Procurement

For example, Murphy says a “reimagined” procurement process and longtime relationships with many major suppliers have enabled Willmeng to be proactive and leverage its purchasing power for hard-to-get materials.

“Our estimating department set us up for success by being proactive and finding ways we can get in front of potential materials delays or long lead times for mechanical equipment, roofing or whatever product was in short supply,” he says.

Swancey notes that the approach has paid off, particularly with the knowledge that long-lead materials will be available when needed.

“Keeping a pulse on supply and demand trends and lead times is complex and hard in today’s environment, and they do a great job in this department,” he says.

Even when pandemic-related material shortages threatened to delay projects, Swancey adds, “they assisted in finding and procuring viable substitute materials that were comparable to our base product at a discount.”

“Most of our contracts include wages for laborers that are above the prevailing wage.”
—James Murphy, CEO, Willmeng

Willmeng has likewise consistently demonstrated its ability to successfully compete for the Southwest’s limited pool of skilled craft labor. One advantage, Murphy says, is the company’s Fair 360 program, which he says is designed to develop fair contract terms that incentivize all parties involved in a project to provide the resources necessary to finish on time and on budget.

“We also are very proud of the fact that most of our contracts include wages for laborers that are above the prevailing wage,” Murphy adds. “It’s competitive out there, and paying your team an above-the-norm wage is vital to retaining them.”

This approach helps attract what Exeter calls “the cream of the crop” of subcontractors to her projects. “They want to be part of the Willmeng team,” she says, “and that’s a big advantage to a developer.”

So too is supplying clients with timely information that has become critical for decision-making. In recent years, says Murphy, the firm has augmented its client communication channels with real-time status updates through cloud-based project management tools.

“From start to finish, you get an honest assessment of cost and schedule, and they stick to it,” says Keith Earnest, executive vice president for VanTrust Real Estate, which began its first collaboration with Willmeng last year with groundbreaking for the eight-building first phase of the 150-acre Peoria Logistics Park.

“There’s risk in everything we do,” Earnest adds, “but they do an excellent job of mitigating as much risk up front so there are no surprises at the end of the job. Willmeng’s ability to keep us out in front of these challenges helps us deliver quality projects.”

Willmeng has consistently delivered these and other services by making similar investments in the skills and well-being of its 340-person workforce, including its annual offsite retreat and in-house Safety Academy. Philanthropy is also part of Willmeng’s culture, with the company supporting more than 75 local organizations in recent years. Small wonder, then, that Willmeng regularly appears on Best Workplace lists by publications like the Phoenix Business Journal and Inc. magazine.

Banner Sports Medicine Center

Willmeng recently completed construction of the $54-million Banner Sports Medicine Center in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Photo courtesy of Small Giants

Practical Preparation

Though Willmeng has capitalized on Arizona’s robust industrial sector in recent years, Murphy says the company has been increasingly strategic in terms of new project pursuits. That includes diversifying its portfolio into areas such as municipal, new and tenant-improvement office, multifamily, hospitality, mission critical and infrastructure.

Two recently completed examples can be found in Scottsdale: the 80,000-sq-ft Banner Sports Medicine facility, located on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, and the $33.5-million renovation of Scottsdale Civic Center Park. For the latter, Willmeng overhauled aging infrastructure, made provisions for public art, upgraded visitor amenities and more while incorporating sustainable water use systems.

A broader focus may also help insulate Willmeng from the uncertainties shrouding the Southwest construction market’s future, including interest rates and the availability of key resources. Murphy says that while there is no shortage of new project opportunities, “supply chain issues continue to challenge project execution, and the availability of power for future developments has been dominant in preconstruction conversations.”

He adds that such conversations “reinforce the need for collaboration between the project team, the utility providers and the municipality to solve these challenges early on in the process.”