Concrete subcontractors know that no two projects are the same. Craft and logistics vary depending on a variety of factors. The potential for unique opportunities abounds in Baker Concrete’s Great West region, where the firm has more than doubled its revenue in the past year to $116 million. The contractor worked to expand its footprint in 2022 while managing a COVID rebound and several large, tricky projects.

“I think Baker historically has been very skilled at booming into remote markets and doing larger projects,” says Norman Holden, vice president and Great West region general manager. “We have an ability to bring resources and manpower to remote places and do bigger work.”

A 15-story project in Denver

A 15-story project in Denver turns a vacant lot into a mix of apartments and hotel rooms.
Image © 2023 Jackie Shumaker/Baker Concrete/All Rights Reserved

That ability was on display in 2022 as Baker grew from 350 employees to more than 625, thanks to a Denver construction market that took off following the pandemic slowdown. The addition of challenging remote projects throughout the region, such as the $45-million Black Desert Resort in Ivins, Utah, and the $30-million Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Mont., also helped support growth.

Jenny Wohlrabe, Baker Concrete preconstruction manager, says landing the mix of projects—everything from multifamily to resort—comes from the firm’s expertise in building relationships with contractors well before contracts get awarded.

“We do a lot up front to help with budgeting,” she says, “and we stay involved until the project eventually awards. When we work on projects with one of those clients, they know who we are, we form a relationship.”

Black Desert Resort

Carved out of black lava rock, the 600-acre Black Desert Resort in Utah features a luxury hotel, a spa, retail space and residences.
Image © 2023 Jackie Shumaker/Baker Concrete/All Rights Reserved

Remote Control

On the Black Desert Resort project, a 600-acre resort carved from black lava rock, the effort required a cast-in-place structure with a sprawling footprint of more than 44,000 cu yd. The resort opened in May with a luxury hotel, spa, retail space and residences, along with views of the Greater Zion area. It features parking atop spread footings and five building towers of hotel rooms and condos over a podium.

Bill Baum, project director at Sirq Construction, the project’s prime contractor, says from the early stages of the development, Baker was “instrumental through their collaborative participation in creating logical work plans, developing flow sequences and providing critical feedback that informed our schedule predecessor and successor activities.”

“We have an ability to bring resources and manpower to remote places and do bigger work.”
—Norman Holden, Great West Region General Manager, Baker Concrete

Even during a time of extreme uncertainty regarding labor shortages and material procurement, Baum says it was the experience and broad reach of resources from Baker that helped mitigate those concerns in the early phases of the project.

When it came time for the actual build, Baum says the Baker team kept up with the complexity of a site that covered 820,000 sq ft with five separate vertical structures in varied elevations. “Obviously,” he says, “it is good to be confident that the structures are setting in their proper place, and Baker contributed very much to that effort.”

While its crews were working on lava rock in the Utah desert, the contractor was also engaged high in the remote mountains of Montana, building a luxury condominium project for the prestigious Yellowstone Club. The three new condominium buildings at the base of a private ski resort require more 21,000 cu yd of concrete.

But the biggest challenge Baker faced on the two remote projects was manpower management: getting workers into remote areas without a large available workforce to pull from. At Black Desert, with about 90 workers at peak, the challenge was simply getting workers there, housing them and maintaining the workforce. In Montana, on an even more remote site, Baker is busing in workers from a neighboring town an hour away.

A secondary challenge in remote areas is concrete supply, and Baker set up batch plants on the Utah site to ensure the project had the concrete it needed to stay on schedule.

16-story cast-in-place building

The 16-story cast-in-place building in Denver features a 10-story canyon that cuts vertically and horizontally across the structure.
Image © 2023 Jackie Shumaker/Baker Concrete/All Rights Reserved

Learning From Experience

While Baker has experienced the challenges of working in remote regions, the Denver market provides a smoother logistic path, but still one that demands expertise and careful planning.

The firm’s recent Denver projects include the $15-million One River North mixed-use project and the $20-million Sports Castle Lofts. One River North is a 16-story cast-in-place building featuring a 10-story canyon that cuts vertically and horizontally across the structure’s facade. The 15-story mixed-use Sports Castle Lofts project required more than 20,000 cu yd of concrete. Baker also just topped out on the 26th and Alcott project, which will become Denver’s largest apartment building when it opens in spring 2024.

Wohlrabe says it has proven rewarding—fun, even—to look at those early challenges and then watch something materialize from nothing, especially in the areas where they aren’t used to working.

“We are helping a client solve problems and get to the finish line,” she says. “We are all here because we like construction. To us, it is fun. There are those learning experiences outside of where we are, and we are learning from those challenges.”

“If you are not learning something new every day, you are not paying attention. We don’t build any two structures that are the same, so everything is pretty unique.”
—Norman Holden, Great West Region General Manager, Baker Concrete

Holden agrees that it is gratifying to see a project go from nothing to finished project, even if it does come with a fair share of challenges. “I think there are lessons learned on everything we do,” he says. “If you are not learning something new every day, you are not paying attention. We don’t build any two structures that are the same, so everything is pretty unique.”

However, many of the contractor’s recent challenges have come from the climate in which they work. At Black Desert, crews had to learn how to speed the setting process to finish concrete in the desert, a much different approach than the winter finishing in Montana that required Baker’s crews to warm mixtures for proper curing.

Holden says staying connected with the client—the Black Desert project required at least a year of preconstruction design assist—builds relationships and helps smooth logistical difficulties as they arrive, no matter the location.

“Having subs on board that are experts in their particular piece of the project helps a client out immensely,” Holden says, especially when working with general contractors taking on new risks.

“It is the value of what we bring to the table in terms of our ability to build the job, bring the people, help do our work and help coordinate the other work that goes on. It is all part of the overall scope of the job with other trades,” he says.

Matt Joens, construction executive and vice president at Milender White Construction, says his firm has worked with Baker for more than two decades. He relies on trade partners to fully understand their scope of work and assist in developing the best plans for a specific project, something he says Baker is prepared to provide.

“They have completed many challenging projects across a wide range of market sectors and, specific to Milender White, complex high-rise concrete operations to support hotel, office and multifamily projects,” he says.

On each project with Milender, Baker aids in the planning for below grade concrete and deep foundations. Above grade, Baker supports in developing the overall sequence of operations. Joens says Baker follows the plan and executes.

The Sports Castle Lofts

The Sports Castle Lofts is a 15-story mixed-use project in Denver next door to the 1926 Sports Castle Building. The site required more than 20,000 cu yd of concrete.
Image © 2023 Jackie Shumaker/Baker Concrete/All Rights Reserved

Leaning Into Challenges

Along with handling large, unique projects, Baker Concrete also built up its own shotcrete work in 2022. Holden says Baker was struggling without reliable subs and invested in their own shotcrete program to help their work and make it available to clients.

To help stave off the continued challenge of finding workers, for the past five years Baker has sponsored the Construction Education Foundation and workforce development efforts in the Denver metro area to implement hands-on learning experiences for students.

“It is tied to workforce development and trying to get young people interested in the construction trades,” Holden says. “Because there is a shortage of available workers and more leaving than joining, we realized we needed to do something more. We had to try to help create the future workforce.”

Moving forward, the Denver base of Baker Concrete’s Great West region will continue to expand, even beyond Utah and Montana. The region has an office in Phoenix and does work in Washington, Oregon, Wyoming and other states.

“We are all over the West,” Wohlrabe says, “so we are looking for the next opportunity for us to go out there and solve some more problems.”