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March 1, 2023

BEAR This In Mind: Communication And Planning Are Key To A Successful Industrial Building Project

BEAR Construction | John Krukowski, Studio B Writer

BEAR Construction Co. began performing work in the industrial/manufacturing sector nearly 20 years ago to diversify its income stream and workload. What it quickly came to appreciate was how diverse the work itself can be, with each project essentially being a custom job.

“Many manufacturing and industrial projects are unique, so there’s often not another job that we can pull out of the files and say, ‘Here’s how we did it on the last one,’” BEAR Project Executive William Webb said. “A lot of upfront planning and document review are required before we even begin the work.”

The unique nature of these projects is something BEAR would like prospective clients to keep in mind. Whether it’s a minor renovation or the construction of an entirely new facility, every project comes with its own complications or special requirements. For that reason, owners of manufacturing operations should hire experienced contractors who appreciate the nuances and can adapt to the challenges of the work.

Webb said each project requires BEAR to perform in-depth due diligence to understand the client’s needs and how best to help them. These clients may be active in the food and beverage, chemicals, energy or manufacturing sectors, with each presenting a set of challenges not typically encountered in other project types.

One recent job involved the demolition of an existing chemical processing building and the construction of its three-story replacement on an extremely tight site with little room to maneuver. Before it began work, BEAR put together detailed plans for the client to explain how it would get the job done and keep employees safe. It also undertook facility-specific safety training.

“It was a very hazardous environment where we worked mere feet away from lines carrying caustic chemicals,” Webb said. “There couldn’t have been a more difficult area in the plant to do this kind of work, but we completed that project in under a year without any incidents, and it was a very successful job.”

When a project involves those kinds of risks and challenges, it is important that owners carefully vet a potential construction partner, Webb said. He recommended that industrial clients look for a contractor with relevant experience, competency and team members who are accustomed to working in a manufacturing environment.

It is also important to look at the contractor’s Experience Modification Rating, a tool insurance companies use to set workers’ compensation premiums. An EMR of less than 1.0 is considered good, and BEAR’s five-year average is 0.74 — an impressive number for a firm with more than 100 trade employees, the BEAR team says.

“Safety is huge because you won’t even get on-site unless you can prove that you have the track record, whether it’s an EMR rating or meeting the plant’s own requirements that go above and beyond,” BEAR Vice President of Construction Ryan McDonough said. “We take a lot of pride in our safety program and make sure our EMR stays well below industry standards, and that’s pretty rare for a contractor of our size and capabilities.”

In addition to safety, owners should consider whether a contractor takes the time to understand the client’s processes that it will be working alongside and how its activities might impact them, McDonough said. This step is critical in meeting the client’s needs and helping secure the type of long-term relationships that BEAR prides itself on.

“We’re not looking just for the one-and-done project,” he said. “Whether it’s a $100M plant expansion or $2,500 maintenance job to help them out, we’re looking to establish that relationship so when we start working in a plant, we stay there.”

BEAR Executive Vice President Scott Kurinsky said the firm entered the industrial market in the early 2000s in an effort to diversify. Today, it is nearly 30% of BEAR’s annual business.

“It was a conscious effort on our part to spread our risk and reward through diversification,” he said. “We purposely went into that line of work to get into something that wasn’t interiors, healthcare or communications, which were our big markets at the time.”

Senior Project Manager Philip Williams said BEAR, which also serves clients in sectors such as life sciences, education and municipalities, stresses the importance of communication with project stakeholders no matter what the work involves. And when a mistake on the job could result in a release of hazardous materials or the contamination of food or pharmaceutical products, communication takes on added urgency, Williams said.

“A lot of times when we’re working in these facilities, they’re still in operation, and we have to provide detailed plans on how we’re going to get our work done and not interfere with their safety and productivity,” Williams said. “Things like system shutdowns are costly to manufacturers and have to be really planned out and coordinated. Constant communication between their project management team, their operations people and our field staff is key.”

McDonough said a highly collaborative approach not only ensures a project will be completed successfully but brings the client peace of mind.

“That’s where a contractor in this environment really shows their value,” he said. “And that’s what our clients expect: for us to make their lives easier in addition to accomplishing what needs to be done.”

This article was produced in collaboration between BEAR Construction and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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