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Business Observer Thursday, Mar. 4, 2010 12 years ago

Band together

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Building for government was always a tough business, but companies like Sunshine Structures that focused on that sector have the inside track today. The key is to find the right team.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

The economic downturn has taught countless management lessons, but among them is the fact that no one can go it alone.

Sunshine Structures, a Lehigh Acres-based commercial-construction firm that specializes in concrete buildings, teamed up with LJB three years ago, an engineering firm in Dayton, Ohio. Together, they've bid on jobs that have helped Sunshine's revenues grow in 2009 to $26 million, a feat in this economy.

Teaming with an engineering firm gives Sunshine the ability to help shape the design of a building to meet a customer's financial abilities, says Rorie Wilson, president of Sunshine Structures.

Typically, architects and engineers draft plans and then construction companies bid on the work. But Wilson says working with engineers and architects allows him to tailor the project for a specific budget and bypass the bidding process. “We take on the risk with them,” Wilson says.

Before the recession hit, Wilson sought out an engineering firm with which to partner because he wanted Sunshine to grow beyond the borders of Southwest Florida. “Planning has been a big thing for us,” Wilson says. “This area doesn't have enough business for concrete contractors.”

But Wilson knew that establishing operations further away required standards that could be replicated by trusted employees in another location. “Your clients want to know you're around,” Wilson says.

All that planning paid off.

The company is growing and 90% of its work is outside Southwest Florida. It has offices in New Orleans and Savannah, Ga. Despite being a relatively young company, Sunshine Structures' financial health has earned it $40 million in bonding capacity.

Of course, Sunshine Structures has benefited from the fact that it mostly focused on the public sector since Wilson, 41, and three partners founded the company in 2001. Wilson's partners include Chief Financial Officer Ernie Stuart, Chief Operating Officer Rick Johnston and Project Manager Nick Demint.

Wilson, a Canadian native who moved to the Fort Myers area in 1997 as a business consultant, says low margins today demand organizations be more efficient. It has streamlined the process, from using sophisticated software that models potential problems to designing a special dolly that lets construction crews easily move 600-pound braces around a site.

Sunshine Structures has also streamlined its administrative staff, cutting 40% of its salaried staff in a single round of layoffs in early 2008. Rather than cut staff gradually over time, Wilson did it all at once so the people who remained could focus on the work ahead.

Wilson says Sunshine Structures is poised to grow revenues another 10% this year. It is currently building a massive 400,000-square-foot, four-story structure in New Orleans' Federal City. One of Sunshine's superintendents moved his family to Louisiana to oversee the project.

Other projects include a physical fitness center and utility buildings at two military bases in Georgia. Sunshine Structures is also hoping to land a job building a 1.5 million-square-foot distribution facility in Ohio.

“There's enough work out there to grow,” Wilson says.

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