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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 8, 2016 4 years ago

Gaining altitude

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Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. has become a leader in airport construction projects on the Gulf Coast. It's not surprising considering the CEO is an ace pilot.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Some 15 years ago, David Dale remembers suggesting to colleagues at Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. that they should consider doing more airport-construction work.

Dale, president of the Fort Myers construction firm, is certainly knowledgeable about aviation. In the 1980s, Dale flew crop duster planes in Kansas, a dangerous job that required precision flying just feet from the ground. In his younger days, Dale also practiced aerobatic flying.

Now, OAK is now the go-to airport contractor in the region. “We're just finishing the Venice runway extension,” Dale says. “We do a ton of aviation work.”

OAK has worked on numerous aviation projects ranging from runway extensions to terminal construction at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Naples Municipal Airport, Marco Island Executive Airport, Immokalee Regional Airport and Page Field in Fort Myers.

You can tell Dale has a passion for anything related to aviation. Today, he flies a two-engine Cessna 310 that he keeps in a hangar at his airpark home. “It makes it easier to get to jobs,” Dale smiles. “Airport work is a lot of fun.”

Aviation work helped OAK through the downturn because of the steady demand for airport maintenance. After all, you can't put off rehabilitating an older runway.

Municipal work today accounts for as much as 90% of OAK's revenues. The firm, which operates in Florida and Michigan, reported revenues rose 17% last year to $151.5 million.

Dale says the company has seen a recovery in private-sector work, too. For example, car dealers are building new showrooms to entice shoppers. “There's been a steady increase in commercial construction,” Dale says.

But much of the new private-sector work is building retail, such as gas stations and drug stores. National retailers generally have their own contractors who follow them from one location to the next. “That doesn't do much for us,” he says.

Public-sector work varies by state. “In Michigan, it's all K through 12 schools,” Dale says. “They're doing lots of replacements of existing schools in multiple districts.”

The challenge in Florida has been the recession, which cut property taxes on which schools rely for funding. “In Florida, everything is maintenance,” Dale says. “Financially, that's a struggle.”

However, that may start to change as property values rise again and municipalities start to see tax-revenue growth. “It will start to catch up after a while,” Dale says.

In addition to schools, Dale says roads, bridges and water and sewer systems will have to be updated. For example, one of OAK's biggest jobs currently is replacing three bridges, building four roundabouts and expanding two miles of roads to four lanes on Edgewater Drive in Charlotte County. “You can't put them off forever,” he says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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