Construction from a GC’s Perspective

The conventional wisdom of South Florida’s real estate community holds local general contractors as kings of the market.

With competition decimated by the recession, builders that hung on are now feasting on excess demand.

Adam Mopsick, CEO of Miami-based general contractor Amicon Construction Management Inc., knows that story line. His company is certainly busy, doing everything from building out downtown law offices (Gunster and Shutts & Bowen are clients) to creating new retail buildings in Miami’s Design District and repurposing Wynwood warehouses as brew pubs.

Yet it’s not all just watching the contracts roll in. In an interview with the Daily Business Review, Mopsick explains the challenges that come with a bountiful market. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s the history of Amicon?

We started in 1996, building hight-end custom homes and pretty much saw nothing but a steady rise for 10 years. Obviously things started to shift around 2006, and we had the nightmare of what was 2009 and 2010. Because we were doing so much interior, we survived by doing work for landlords because they were throwing money at buildings to keep tenants. Things started to pick up quickly in this cycle.

Our firm specializes in high-end work, mainly interiors, but we’ve done a lot of corporate offices from major multinationals. We do a lot of hospitality interiors and also a lot of large high-end offices, besides retail ground-up build-outs and other small to mid-size projects.

Office work is always busy, and the retail work is getting increasingly busy. An interesting trend picking up for us is development of that’s happening in peripheral areas of the Design District and Miami Beach, a lot of infill ground-up projects as developers follow the success of what’s happened in the core.

Busy allows you to grow. But I imagine it brings its own set of challenges. What are they?

It’s a very difficult time in terms of talent. A lot of people left the market when it was slow, and anybody who’s good is employed currently, so it’s hard to find hight-level skilled people. Some of the people who are coming in are not qualified to do the kind of work we’re doing. It’s really the biggest problem in the industry.

Another problem all GCs are facing right now is in the subcontractor market. It’s difficult to get subs to respond and respond in a timely manner and bid on the projects. The pendulum has shifted significantly, and there simply aren’t enough people in time to do the high-quality work that there is.

How do you deal with that?

Word of mouth, being aggressive in hiring and doing our best to keep our employees happy. We’re taking to relocating people from out of the area. For us, we have to be 100 percent certain we make the right hire. Making the wrong decision can have long-lasting ramifications.

What’s the most challenging part usually of getting a project done in this market?

It depends on the space, but there’s always three factors- speed, quality and price-and you have to pick out two that are most important. When it comes to high-end retailers, it’s all about speed. But we have other clients for whom it’s more of a budget-oriented process, and we’re there to really manage the budget. For some of the hospitality clients, it’s logistical issues: They don’t want you to work during the night and want you to be invisible during the day. There’s issues of pedestrian access whenever construction is ongoing.

Then there’s dealing with subcontractors. We work with some really hight-end designers. We have to be sensitive to educate them since many come in and want to educate us. While designers might have great ideas as to what they want to achieve, we have to make sure it can be implemented in a way that’s cost-effective. There’s always a budget.

Who ar you normally competing against?

There’s firms of our size we compete with, but we will get invited to bid and often compete with some of the larger companies like Turner. It has to do with what kind of company the client is comfortable with. At the end of the day with a GC, people think they’re buying a product. Really what you’re buying is a service. You should select whoever you’re more comfortable with since you’re essentially married to them for the length of the project.

One thing we try to point out is that when you hire the GC, it’s not just about considering the firm but also the timing. When you hire someone, if they have their best people tied up in some other project, you might get their C or D tim. When you the into account, that may not be the firm you want even if they have a good reputation.

How do you aim to stand out?

People come into the Miami market and have very low expectations as to what they’ll receive in terms of a service level. We really try to provide white-glove level of service. We pride ourselves in reporting and communication. Any of our clients can log in online and see pictures of how their projects are going without having to travel here. A lot of contractors have the mentality of ‘you give us the recipe, and we’ll bake the cake.’ We try to take a more high-minded approach.