Construction management in a fast-growing economy

When pursuing construction projects, owners should have upfront planning for a well thought out project

I oversee development of manufacturing resources for the Vancouver-based manufacturing facility of Kyocera. My seven positions over 25 years at Kyocera, plus my engineering education, service in the Air Force and past ownership of a small construction company have prepared me to navigate these challenging times in the construction industry.

Kyocera, a combination of “Kyoto” and “Ceramics” was formed 60 years ago in Japan and has more than 70,000 employees worldwide. Our 30-year-old facility in Vancouver has 200 employees working 24/7 making fine technical ceramic products that are used in jet engines, manufacturing plants and smartphones.

Kyocera has a fantastic philosophy of taking care of people, the economy and the environment. Its company philosophy is to “Respect the Divine and Love People.” We work diligently, respectfully and responsibly. I strive to carry that culture in developing new resources to expand production.

Regional Construction Environment

As an owner’s representative for construction projects, I have researched and interacted with many construction contractors. I have had a wide range of experiences.

The current environment is nuts. Regional construction activity is up 300 percent from a few years ago. Contractors have no quick way to add talented staff. When we issue an RFQ, we don’t even hear back from half the people. This makes it difficult for Kyocera to plan and schedule company investments.

When pursuing construction projects, owners can help themselves by having a well thought out project with consensus and agreement from key people inside the organization. Better upfront planning minimizes changes and surprises later on.

Finding A Construction Partner

A co-worker suggested that we check out RSV Building Solutions. Through vetting and personal meetings, RSV quickly stood out as being the right size, culture and fit for our expansion projects. Our recent work together on a 12,000-square-foot warehouse reaffirmed our selection.

Here are a few things you should look for when choosing a construction partner:

Budgeting and accounting: When asking for an estimate, a good company will come back not only with a detailed budget estimate quickly and accurately, but may also bring the owner, project manager and field supervisor, and discuss every line item. This is a refreshing philosophy on budgeting and accounting. A profit should be clearly shown. We want them to make a fair profit so they are there and ready for future projects.

Responsiveness: Together, we create a schedule and we stick to it. When questions arise, staff should answer them on-site, in project meetings or through timely calls and emails. They are very open and amenable to questions, not at all defensive, and generally have clear answers or solutions within a day. I know them personally now, including the owner, which is rare and very refreshing.

Active project management: In addition to solid budgeting and estimating, a good company directly manages the construction process on-site. Details don’t fall through the cracks. This is reflected by the minimal number of changes, and rarely are they the contractor’s fault. When we do have them, the company comes back with timely, fair and correctly priced changes. A track record of minimal changes causes us to trust a company’s original estimates and help everyone plan better.

Partnerships and problem solving: By actively staffing projects and working with trusted partners, a good company eliminates problems before they arise. This includes productive and long-term relationships with subcontractors. I recently learned that RSV and key subcontractors discovered and resolved a permitting snag before I even knew about it. It doesn’t get much more professional than that.

If you are considering a construction project, the first and most important step is a careful evaluation of the construction company, their management, culture and business philosophy. Decide if you can communicate with them and trust them. Using a great company has stabilized our construction process and has played a key role in helping to make Kyocera more productive. Great relationships lead to great outcomes.

Todd McMillan is engineering project manager for Kyocera International, Inc., in Vancouver. This column was authored with support from RSV Building Solutions.

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