Stretching out from the Alaskan peninsula into the freezing Bering Sea, the Aleutian Islands are among the most remote and challenging islands for human habitation.
If you think labor and supply chain issues are challenging in Florida, a chat with Derrick Perry, vice president of construction at GCG Construction, about building structures on the Aleutian Islands will quickly put things in perspective. His experience in planning and operations for projects in extreme environments such as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline has helped GCG navigate the building challenges of COVID-19 and most recently the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Ian.
“Due to the dedication, organization and planning of our field and office teams, we were able to get out to our jobsites and clients’ facilities in the early morning hours following the hurricane. This helped us to assess the damages and identify any safety concerns. From there, we were able to start dispersing our resources to respond immediately. We had subcontractors on site making repairs and addressing dangerous conditions within 48 hours of the storm passing,” explains Andrew Solon, senior project manager who has been with the company for 17 years.
This level of commitment is one of the keys to the success of Fort Myers-based GCG Construction (www.gcgbuilds.com) and has helped GCG become the go-to construction firm for clients such as MarineMax and Phelan Family Holdings, the parent of Deep Lagoon Seafood, Pinchers and Texas Tony’s Rib & Brewhouse restaurants. GCG’s methodical planning, execution and attention to detail serve clients well as GCG expands out of Southwest Florida. As a result, the family-owned firm has been growing with its clients throughout all corners of the state, from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle.
“Interestingly, GCG started to grow outside of Southwest Florida about five years ago in response to helping clients who were impacted from multiple hurricanes,” says Teely Byrd, who co-owns the business with his wife, Lerin Byrd.
For example, GCG created a four-man mobile team with a large, fully equipped trailer loaded with equipment and supplies to help boat dealer MarineMax restore its Ocean Reef location in Key Largo just days after Hurricane Irma blew through in 2017.
Most recently, GCG helped MarineMax in Fort Myers prepare for Hurricane Ian. Perry and Ryan West, vice president of MarineMax and general manager of the Fort Myers dealership, were the first on site at the marina off McGregor Boulevard after the storm. Together, the team had rented a home on high ground in Cape Coral before the storm so they could jump into action once it passed. “We staged the generators at the marina, drove down in four feet of water and got it going,” West says.
GCG’s growth into other sectors of Florida has been beneficial for a multitude of reasons. Diversification “is one of the keys to our success in the ever-changing marketplace,” says Byrd. “Expanding our businesses territory has opened the doors up to other markets and allowed us to be able to shift to those that may have higher levels of growth or needs when other markets do not.”
MARINE INDUSTRY FOCUS
Clients such as MarineMax rely on GCG Construction for their Florida projects. Publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, MarineMax is the world’s largest recreational boat and yacht retailer with more than 100 locations worldwide, including 79 retail dealership locations and 33 marinas and storage operations. MarineMax and GCG have been working together since 2013.
Every marina construction project presents unique challenges and MarineMax’s West says GCG’s strength is finding a way to overcome any obstacle, sometimes by seeking outside experts and including them on their team. “They’ve been very good at helping us find solutions that haven’t been explored or needed before,” says West. “They’ve translated traditional commercial construction and helped to bridge the gap with doing it in an atypical environment.”
GCG’s superior organizational capabilities shine in a complex marine construction project because so many professionals are involved. “Environmental engineering is an extensive process that involves collaboration with structural engineers, civil engineers and architects,” explains Solon.
The work is often complex. Last year, GCG broke ground on a new 10,000sf building and extensive renovations to MarineMax’s facility in Pensacola after it suffered damage from Hurricane Sally. Renovations include new docks, fuel systems, a travel lift, well and seawalls, all the while keeping the business open.
“One of the largest challenges is working in and around fully functioning marinas. They’re paying the bills so you have to keep them operational,” says Perry.
Although some of GCG’s highest-profile projects have been marine related, the firm also has extensive experience in other industries such as health care, hospitality and retail. “While GCG’s primary client base is made up of companies in the private sector, we also work on public and government projects.”
For example, GCG has been on a continuing contract for construction services with the School Board of Lee County since 2019. “Government and public projects will continue to be a part of GCG’s project portfolio and are another example of our project diversity,” Byrd says.
MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT
GCG has taken measured steps to grow outside of its home turf in Southwest Florida. “Transitioning our business to statewide has been more of a marathon than a sprint. Every project we look at outside of our core area is carefully considered and vetted,” says Teely Byrd.
Florida is a big state geographically. For example, it takes more than eight hours to drive the 586 miles from Fort Myers to Pensacola.
“It’s easy to follow a great client to new locations knowing that you have a fantastic working relationship together, but the challenge comes when you take on a new client in a new area,” says Byrd. “Logistics can become complicated when you are in a new area and how you manage that challenge can determine the success of your project.”
Fortunately, when growing to other parts of the state, many clients may already have well-established relationships with subcontractors. “Large marinas already have vendors such as electricians and plumbers,” Perry explains. “My first step is to work with the client. Who are their resources?”
Perry says GCG’s sterling reputation in Southwest Florida sets the foundation for finding great subcontractors outside the region. “There’s a wealth of good people out there,” Perry says. “The exciting part for me is building new relationships.”
For example, GCG delivered the Midland Trust building in Fort Myers ahead of schedule in early March despite the challenges of labor and materials. “They were amazing,” says Griffin Brunson, business operations manager at Midland Trust. “The heads of the company were involved and they made us feel like a very important client.”
Brunson says he was particularly pleased with Bob Duncan, the GCG superintendent on the job, who made the project run smoothly each day. “Bob was my favorite part of the whole experience,” says Brunson. “He would literally do anything to help us out. He was always in a good mood and making sure everything was up to standard.”
GCG’s superior-quality construction was proven by the storm, notes Brunson. Everything held up, and Brunson was back in the 15,000sf office on San Carlos Boulevard in Fort Myers after the storm.
Professionals who have worked with the Byrds say they are easy to reach and emphasize collaboration.
“They’re great team players,” says Ramon Acevedo, president of Fort Myers-based GMA Architects, which has worked with GCG for more than a decade.“Teely and Lerin Byrd are invested in the projects. They are owners of a company who are involved, all hands on the project.”
Acevedo says he appreciates being able to reach the owners of the company any time.
The importance of collaboration early in the project can’t be underestimated. “The key for us is being involved very early on in most of our projects, where we can work with our design consultants and our subcontractors to establish a plan and be quick to adapt when something changes,” says Byrd. “It’s quite honestly a new world for our industry and requires everyone to think outside of the box to keep things moving. There is not a perfect answer for how best to overcome these issues and we learn something new every day, but being creative and having likeminded team members has allowed our projects to be huge successes.”
Another advantage is technology, which fills in potential gaps in communications through Zoom calls, live cameras on job sites and construction-workflow software programs that are now part of the toolkit.
“We now have the ability to view a livestream video of the project at any time from any place in the world,” says Byrd. “Typically, there are one or two cameras positioned at a high vantage point that will capture the entire site and its activities. They can zoom, pan, record and provide security with infrared options. It has been a great tool for our projects and allows the entire team, including our clients, to see the projects’ current progress.”
Video conference calls have improved efficiency by offering face-to-face collaboration from multiple locations, which expedites design and construction decisions.
Remote access to important documents is essential. GCG uses cloud-based software for document management on all projects to allow industry partners to access project-related information at any time.
GCG combines new technology with boots-on-the-ground supervision. “I came up with my tool bags on. I like being out in the field with the guys because you can identify issues well in advance,” Perry says.
MORE IS NOT ALWAYS MORE
Having managed through the Great Recession and the previous boom, the Byrds are keenly aware of Florida’s cyclical economy.
Unbridled growth can have negative consequences. “We’ve learned over the years that more is not always more,” says Byrd. “In spite of the challenges that we have all faced over the past two years, we’ve taken away some very valuable lessons and know that we are a better business because of it.”
Still, Florida’s well-known advantages as a pro-business state makes it a great place for GCG to expand. “We are very confident that our great state of Florida will continue to flourish, which in turn brings new and exciting opportunities. We also know that the market will always be in a state of perpetual motion, and you have to be prepared for it as best you can. Be adaptable, be diverse, be creative and you will continue to move forward,” says Byrd. “Our focus for 2023 and beyond is to continue to expand our portfolio of projects while still maintaining our core business and clients. We work hard to avoid complacency and are always striving to learn more so that we can continue our mission to ‘Build it Better.’”