For a company that has 50 locations worldwide, it may seem daunting to try to maintain a local footprint in the construction business — one that values local knowledge as much as any other.
Not to mention doing it in New Jersey.
But Gilbane Building Co. has done so in the Garden State for decades. Located in New Brunswick, the full-service construction and building firm is marking its 50th year in business here, and it’s now looking ahead with a pipeline that has started to swell in recent years.
“We’d love to be in this state for another 50 years,” said Christopher Cornick, director of business development for Gilbane’s Northeast division. “I think that there’s a commitment from corporate to this office, and I think it speaks for itself — the amount of work and the type of clients that are prevalent in this state, and we’re just trying to do our best to continue to serve them and continue to grow at the rate we’ve been doing.”
The family-owned firm, which is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, has project volume valued at nearly $700 million in New Jersey. That has fueled an especially fruitful growth spurt in recent years — from 2014 to 2015, revenue from the New Brunswick office grew about 40 percent, and executives there see continued double-digit growth in the next few years.
Cornick also notes there were about a dozen people employed by the New Jersey location around 2012, a total that has increased roughly tenfold since then. That growth has been about both evolving and capturing work in the state’s key development sectors, from education and multifamily to corporate fit-outs and health care.
Gilbane will look to continue that strategy, while trying to tap into other markets.
“We’ve really made a transition in the last four or five years from being predominantly a (construction management) agency contractor to being one who can do both — that work and what we call at-risk work as a general contractor,” said Daniel Shea, vice president and operations manager in New Jersey. “The growth from 2014 has been really exponential.”
NJBIZ sat down with Cornick and Shea, along with Dennis Cornick, executive vice president with Gilbane, to discuss the company’s growth and its plans going forward.
NJBIZ: Gilbane is known for its work in the education sector, but what are some of the sectors where you hope to expand your presence in New Jersey?
Daniel Shea: In the long term, it’s all about being as diverse as we can be and being in as many markets as we can be. We want to continue to be in K-12 and higher ed, health care, and try to build a little bit on some of this residential experience and perhaps go into some of the low-rise, high density-type work. But we’ve also gotten some opportunities here with (Kerry Group food company) … and we’ve got a second opportunity with them, so we’d like to build on some of that processing and R&D lab type of work.
And that could lead to perhaps some more industrial-type work, which is a big sector in the state, which we’re not in at the moment.
NJBIZ: Is there a recent project you would like to highlight that is a good case study or a good example of how Gilbane works and why it’s successful?
Christopher Cornick: The fact that we’ll be (providing preconstruction services) with Rockefeller on the Summit Medical (Group) project (in Florham Park), I think, is a testament to us being able to build under different contract types and build in various market sectors. It’s a developer-led office building, essentially, that’s got a pretty high-end cancer treatment fit-out on the inside, so to be able to play in all three of those market sectors is certainly a testament to our diversity and the diversity of our project staffs.
DS: There’s the Kerry project, where we have a client we’ve done work for in Wisconsin and then we carried that relationship to our international group and did work for them in Ireland, and that translated to another opportunity here locally in New Jersey. It’s also an example of a repeat client locally, in that we finished a $40 million design-build process facility (in Clark) for them, and now we’re helping them in preconstruction on a $60 million project here again in New Jersey.
So, it’s a perfect example of how we can work nationally, internationally and bring that relationship here locally to New Jersey and then get a repeat job here again in New Jersey.
While Gilbane Building Co. is looking for a diverse pipeline, it doesn’t shy away from what it has done best for many years.
“One of our core markets as a company is education, be it higher ed or K-12,” said Dennis Cornick, executive vice president with Gilbane. “And we encourage all of our offices to get into that market where it makes sense for them locally.”
That has certainly translated to the firm’s New Jersey office. K-12 and higher education projects make up about 22.5 percent and 14 percent of the office’s work, respectively.
Gilbane remains focused on the sector going forward, but through a different lens. Christopher Cornick, director of business development for the firm’s Northeast division, said it has long done construction management “as agent” work for clients such as the New Jersey Schools Development Authority and William Paterson University, but has expanded into general contracting and construction management “at-risk” for the likes of Stevens Institute of Technology and Rutgers University.
“We’ll continue to pursue those,” Christopher Cornick said. “I think it’s a little bit of a shift in terms of Gilbane traditionally, if you go back a few years to now, where Gilbane is kind of trending as a stronger builder within the state.”
CC: Repeat business is a key thing for us. If we had to go out and find new clients all the time, that wouldn’t be ideal. We’re never going to build everything for somebody, but to know that they keep coming back and keep giving us opportunities — and that spans from project management firms to brokerages, to institutional clients to public clients — being able to count three, five, six jobs for somebody in the span of a few years is obviously nice to know.
NJBIZ: You’re located in New Brunswick, where health care is one of the anchor industries. What do you see from that sector when it comes to your pipeline?
CC: I don’t think you’re going to see the green field-type hospitals that we’re seeing down South and in the Midwest from a national perspective, but I think we are on the cusp of health care. A lot of the mergers and acquisitions have shaken out over the past couple of years and I think that you’re seeing … not green field, new build, but some bigger capital projects that are coming out of these systems now that everybody knows who owns them. And it’s much more back in competition — trying to build your facility to be the best, as opposed to keeping Band-Aids on them and keeping yourself attractive for consolidation.
I think that ties to the work that we’re doing with Summit Medical. We’re seeing a lot of that outpatient specialty care. There’s a little bit of an arms race here, both in from a facility side and a system side in terms of competing for patients, and I think that we’re certainly seeing that across the health care realm.
NJBIZ: Gilbane has offices in both New York and Philadelphia and dozens of others globally. Why is it important to have this footprint here in New Jersey?
DS: Without a doubt, it’s to be able to grow locally … New Jersey businesses want to work with New Jersey companies, and that’s how we run our business. We like working in the communities that we live in. We have relationships with the local subcontractors, we have relationships with the local designers, so I think it’s extremely important to have those deep-rooted relationships in order to grow we call it metro-centrically in our cities. And New Jersey is not really one large city to focus on — it’s multiple counties, so to have the people that live and work in the communities that they build in is extremely important to our local growth.
CC: And if you look at the submarkets that we’re in, there’s some specialties within those. The Route 1 corridor from Trenton to New Brunswick probably is a market. That whole Parsippany-Florham Park-78-Garden State Parkway area is a market that’s hopping in the corporate industry sector. In the Newark submarket, we pride ourselves on the amount of work that we do in Newark, and the whole Jersey City submarket on the Gold Coast is certainly a market that’s very corporate-led, but more so developer-led and residential.
So, I can’t fathom wanting to run a business that has the growth that we do in the industry that we’re in and be able to service this state from either Philadelphia or New York.
NJBIZ: At the same time, you say you’re still able to leverage Gilbane’s global network. How do you do that?
Dennis Cornick: We are a global company, but construction really is local, and we look to help the business units. And where they can leverage it is the ‘one company’ approach regarding people, where every one of our 50 offices does not have the skillset and the expertise in every particular type of project, so when we get a truly specialty-type project, we’re sharing resources relevant to the subject matter experts in other locations around the country. It’s leveraging the national clients. The guys used the example of Kerry (Group). We’ve got other examples recently: Fidelity, State Street Bank, and it’s also leveraging the national architect and project management firm relationships like a Gensler, like an HLK, Stantec or a CBRE or JLL. So we bring that from a national perspective, but that then gravitates down to benefit and assist our local offices.
NJBIZ: What do you like about having your office specifically in New Brunswick?
DS: Geographically, our market is really from Trenton north to the New York state border, and being in New Brunswick, you’re within an hour of just about any project we can have in that region. So, geographically, I think it’s important.
We’re also in a community that has some clients that we work for and would like to continue to work for in Rutgers and Robert Wood Johnson and St. Peter’s University Medical Center. So it’s important to be around those clients of ours.
NJBIZ: Being in New Brunswick certainly can’t hurt when it comes to recruiting new talent. What’s that like in your industry these days?
CC: It’s a little bit of a war, because I think the young generation inherently wants to live and work in New York or live and work in Philadelphia. So you’ve got to find the folks that want to build here in the Garden State, which is a unique blend, I think.
DS: We certainly recruit locally from the local universities — NJIT, Rutgers, Stevens. As a matter of fact, we have three interns who started (recently) from those institutions and I actually have two new hires … who both are from NJIT. So we are focused on hiring local talent from the universities and developing those talented people from within, and giving them mentors and a chance to grow multiple opportunities. And if they wish to move out of the New Jersey marketplace, they certainly have opportunities in a company like Gilbane in New York or Philadelphia or any other country in the world, for that matter.
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