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A Fresh Start

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  • | 4:17 a.m. September 23, 2011
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Barry Connor and Craig Gaskins were painting their new office a few months ago when the phone rang unexpectedly.

It was the developer of a 60-story condo tower in Louisville, Ky., asking if the pair would oversee construction management of the $450 million project.

Connor & Gaskins Unlimited had been open just a few days when good fortune came its way with that first huge client. In the last four months, the young Naples firm landed several other jobs despite a brutal market for commercial construction.

But it's not surprising, given the fact that the two business associates have years of experience overseeing similarly large projects as partners of Naples-based Boran Craig Barber Engel Construction, one of the Gulf Coast's largest commercial contractors.

Even Connor and Gaskins were somewhat surprised by their auspicious start. Although they decline to cite revenues, they say they've already met their annual expectations in the first quarter. “We figured we'd have three months without work,” Gaskins says.

Connor and Gaskins say their separation from BCBE four months ago was amicable. They've joined an impressive list of alumni from a company that has spawned other successful entrepreneurs, including commercial builders David Diamond and John DeAngelis (now DeAngelis Diamond Construction) and James McVey (formerly Gates McVey).

“We want to start from scratch,” says Gaskins, who acknowledges the risks of venturing on their own when the market is in the doldrums. Both men say they didn't line up any work before they left BCBE. “We had confidence in our ability to get the work,” Gaskins says.

So far, the firm hasn't had trouble finding work. Besides construction management of the Kentucky tower, Connor & Gaskins is refurbishing an apartment building and renovating a sales center, a condo tower and some custom-built homes. Most of its work is in Naples, but it's scouting work in Miami.

Gaskins, 32, is chief operating officer and Connor, 42, is CEO. Both men grew up in Naples, so they have well-established connections in a town that still operates largely on relationships. “If we work real hard, it's our job to lose,” Connor says.

Both men say they've seen a slight uptick in commercial construction, a fact that's been confirmed by their subcontractors. “We're hearing good things from subs,” Connor says. “More private work is starting up.”

To their advantage, many competitors have left the market and those large firms that survived don't operate as lean. “We were very cautious about keeping overhead low,” says Gaskins, who says the two men used their savings to open the business.

What's more, Connor uses his experience as an architect to help clients design a space at no cost, so they don't have to spend $150 an hour for an architect to draft the preliminary drawings. “That's a big key in our presentation,” says Gaskins.

The reason that's important is that building owners and developers continue to be careful about spending money on new projects and renovations, despite a slowly improving economy. “People are very cautious,” Connor says.


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