Sometimes you're fortunate to have the right person on your team.
When Fred Edman hired Andy Powell in 1999 to help him with the expansion of a senior-housing project in Fort Myers, little did he know that the hire would help his construction firm, Fort Myers-based Wright Construction Group, survive the downturn.
Powell's expertise was overseeing civil projects such as roads, water-treatment plants and waste-site cleanups. He's an industry veteran who moved to Southwest Florida during the 1970s and oversaw numerous civil projects as the area's population grew. “They all know Andy Powell since the 1970s,” Edman says. “We get pricing because of the people Andy brought with him.”
In the early to mid-2000s, those kinds of public projects weren't attracting the same level of interest from construction companies as private-sector development. Edman jokes that nearly half of his 26 employees today don't know how to build a building. “And they're proud of it,” he laughs.
In that time, Wright developed an extensive portfolio of public work that would prove crucial for its survival during the real estate downturn. “There wasn't a lot of competition at the time,” says Edman. “We were heavy into the public work before the downturn.”
But when the downturn came, Wright was ready. Since 2008, the firm has won $71 million worth of public projects.
Edman is humble about his foresight. “In retrospect it was a smart move,” he says. “I'd like to say I was that smart.”
When the private-sector work disappeared in 2007, Wright was well positioned to continue the public-sector work that was still available. Notably, the firm landed a $12 million, multi-year road-improvement project in downtown Fort Myers in 2006. “That was just as it came crashing down,” Edman says.
But even during the downturn Edman says Wright had to find niches in public projects. That's because municipalities too were starting to feel the impact of lower revenues. Wright found it with the Florida Department of Transportation and developed a specialty renovating crumbling bridges and renovating new ones. “We've had to develop that relationship and build the team,” Edman says. “You don't just call on the state and get qualified.”
Wright teamed with engineering firm WilsonMiller, now part of Canadian giant Stantec, to land seven major projects in the region. Powell estimates there are only eight or 10 companies in Southwest Florida that are qualified to work with the state's transportation agency.
While municipalities are cutting back, the state continues to spend on transportation projects to maintain and build new roads and bridges. Since 2010, Wright has won $24 million worth of transportation projects from the state.
Edman declines to share Wright's revenues for competitive reasons, but he says they could jump more than 50% this year. For example, Wright recently won a $10.4 million project to widen the shoulders and fix 41 bridges on U.S. 41 from State Road 29 to the Dade County line. In the fall, the firm also won a bid to build a fire station at Interstate 75's Alligator Alley mile marker 63. “The current legislature and the governor have made transportation a priority,” Edman says.