General contractors may be cheering the economic recovery, but finding subcontractors to perform specific construction tasks has become increasingly difficult as the labor market tightens.
Executives with Suffolk Construction in Estero found one way around the shortage in structural concrete and masonry: Six months ago they acquired one of the top subcontractors in that field, Bonita Springs-based Conshor.
“That was a strategic play to help us perform,” says Peter Tuffo, 43, chief operating officer for Boston-based Suffolk's southeast region.
Suffolk has won some high-profile projects recently, including Altaira, the first WCI Communities condo tower in a decade; Naples Square; Aria on Longboat Key; and Moorings Park at Grey Oaks in Naples. In the most recent fiscal year that ended in August, Suffolk built $100 million worth of projects in Southwest Florida and Tuffo projects $200 million next year.
More is coming in areas such as schools, student housing, shops and senior housing. From Marco Island to Tampa, Suffolk now has a backlog of $440 million in projects, Tuffo says.
That's substantial growth from the time Suffolk opened an office in Fort Myers in 2012 on evidence of an economic turnaround. “Anyone who's been in Florida knows the cycle of construction,” Tuffo says.
But unlike many national firms that bring executives in from outside the area, Suffolk hired Tuffo, a veteran of the construction industry in Southwest Florida who was one of the few who stayed behind during the recession. Tuffo previously was an executive with Manhattan Kraft Construction in Naples.
Tuffo recruited others he knew in the area, including WG Mills alumnus and Punta Gorda native Joshua Christensen, 42. “Josh and I remained close friends,” says Tuffo.
In a sense, Tuffo and Christensen put the band back together when they started hiring. “Every one of those people has been in the region,” Tuffo says, noting the company now has 50 people at its offices in Estero and 272 in Florida. “Larger companies that don't have local leadership have not fared well.”
And unlike other state or national companies, employees focus on their home turf. “We don't have a culture of making our employees travel,” Tuffo says.
For example, there was no formal competitive bid process to build Altaira, the 21-story residential tower with condo prices starting at $1 million each. Tuffo says the company won the project because of long-standing relationships with WCI executives that date to the condo boom of the last decade. “The relationship aspects and the people aspects are driving factors,” Tuffo says.
Tuffo and Christensen also have similar well-established relationships with the subcontractors who remained after the bust. “What was left in the market was the highest-performing subs,” Tuffo says.
In addition to owning the concrete and masonry company, renamed Liberty Conshor since Suffolk acquired it from owner Ken Trask, Suffolk also owns its own cranes. If you can find them, cranes might cost $25,000 to $30,000 a month to rent.
Suffolk is moving up the coast to Sarasota and plans to enter the Tampa market. It opened an office in Sarasota prematurely in 2008, just as the recession was intensifying on the Gulf Coast. Tuffo says if it wins condo and mixed-use retail projects in Tampa, Suffolk could establish an office there as soon as next year.
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