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Business Observer Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 1 year ago

Challenges weigh on the construction sector, but innovation reigns

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Builders in the region deliver cool projects, even as industry grapples with pandemic.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

There’s nothing cool about COVID-19.

But there’s plenty of cool to go around for construction projects in the region — including new Girl Scout cabins and turning shipping containers into a mini restaurant row — even as the pandemic lingers. The industry, with a show-must-go-on mentality, was aided in late March when Gov. Ron DeSantis included it on the list of essential business allowed to continue operations.

Operating in the pandemic, of course, isn’t without its challenges. All the projects profiled in this Cool Construction issue faced some form of a pandemic double whammy. One part was ensuring crews and workers were safe on job sites. That required new ways tackling tasks that fostered a socially-distanced environment. Fort Myers-based Stevens Construction, for example, spread its crews vertically, going up and down, on the three-story FineMark Bank & Trust headquarters project its been working on in Fort Myers since October 2019. Pre-pandemic it would have built each floor at a time.

The second pandemic whammy is in supplies and materials. Air conditioning units, specialized wood and steel have all been in short supply at various times in the past seven months. That issue, too, required advanced planning and scheduling. Mark Gold, developer of the KRATE container park at the Grove at Wesley Chapel, sums up the issue succinctly, saying, “It’s been ‘Mission: Impossible’ to find materials.”

One more issue? The industry-wide labor shortage that was a high pain point for most construction firms before the pandemic remains a problem. Gold brought in employees from North Carolina and Louisiana for his project, and other companies leaned more on subcontractors.

While challenges weigh on the industry, these projects and others across the region also serve as innovative examples of overcoming hurdles to do what construction crews do best: build stuff. Like Sarasota-based Firmo Construction, which recently expanded the headquarters of Ultrafast Systems, a laser spectrometer manufacturer.

That seemingly simple project included building a floor that could handle 5,000 pounds of motion-sensitive materials and equipment. It also included retrofitting an elevator in an existing building — a problem-solving engineer’s dream come true of hydraulics and shafts in confined spaces. "We are always looking for unique projects,” Firmo President Eric Collin says. “And this was certainly one of them.”

 

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