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Exactly what is it that you look for in selecting a contractor to perform your construction services? What process do you follow to make certain you are choosing the right contractor for your project?

Choosing a contractor is a complex activity because regardless of what contracting method you decide to use, and regardless of what the finished product looks like, there are many considerations along the way that affect the overall value of your selection.

Let us compare the process of choosing a contractor to some other purchases we make in our personal lives. No matter which store you buy it from, a bottle of Heinz ketchup will have the same taste and same quality. We can say the same about electronics; a specific model of television is the same whether you order it from Amazon or purchase it from Best Buy. Even buying a new car is seemingly straightforward (although it can be incredibly frustrating at times). A Ford Explorer at one dealer is the same as the identically equipped Ford Explorer at a different dealer. No matter which dealer you decide to buy from, it was likely made at the same factory, has the same quality and performance standards, the same paint, same engine, and was probably assembled by the same workers. Based on that standardization, it is probably reasonable to purchase it from the dealer with the lowest price. The same can be said for most purchases where the product purchased is built to the same set of specifications regardless of where, or from whom, you make the final purchase. The commonality here is that the actual manufacturing of the product is likely completed at the same place, following the same process, regardless of the vendor from which you select to buy it.

Now let us look at a more complex purchase, such as a home. A 3,000 square foot house might cost $100 per square foot or it may cost $200 or even $300 per square foot. Hopefully you will be able to see the difference when it is complete; however, there are many hidden cost deltas people may not notice when they take prices. It is those little things that an experienced and quality contractor may include that the cheapest person does not (even in the $100 per square foot house) that may make a significant difference in your experience as you live in the house. The difference between ¾-inch pipe and ½-inch pipe running to your master bath costs virtually nothing during construction, but if you are the one in the shower when someone flushes the toilet, it makes a big difference in your experience! A person can visually see the difference between linoleum flooring and hardwood, but the difference between the thicknesses of the wear surface on the hardwood flooring goes virtually unnoticed by most homebuyers unless you find yourself needing to refinish it a few years later and realize it cannot be refinished, but instead, must be completely replaced. You may notice the adequacy and quality of the air conditioning equipment in its ability to properly cool the house, or it may show up only when it needs replaced in 5 years instead of 10 or 15 years. Note here that the manufacturer of your house and your vendor are the same entity, the contractor. Their decisions and how much they spend on the process will affect the quality of the finished product much like altering the percentage of tomatoes in that bottle of ketchup would affect the taste and quality of the final product, although it would still be red. If you agree on a price without specifications and during manufacturing of the product, they reduce the tomato content, the price stays the same and their profit goes up while the value of your product goes down.

Heavy Mechanical and Industrial construction projects are typically much larger and more complex than constructing a house or making a bottle of ketchup. They often involve procurement and installation of specialized materials and equipment, assembly of complex components, and the organization and planning of hundreds or even tens of thousands of man-hours of effort.

A few of our clients essentially have no detailed specifications for acceptable materials, assembly procedures, or any detailed requirements for acting safely. Over the years, they have relied on us to ensure that the quality of construction materials and methods remains at an acceptable level in their facility and that all regulations and codes are complied with. This method works only if the relationship between the client and contractor is such that there is a level of trust and a clear expectation as to what is and is not acceptable. Taking bids from multiple contractors when no specific material or installation specifications exist is a recipe for disaster. It is almost assured that the lowest price will be based on the lowest quality, very likely to the point of being unacceptable. Alternatively, you may find yourself with a project that is in violation of a safety standard or building code, or you may find yourself with a product that fails in a natural disaster and causes harm to your business or even worse, harm to your employees.

In an attempt to standardize the final product so that the procurement process can be more cost based, like buying that new car or bottle of ketchup, many clients have developed detailed specifications. Created either in-house or through the use of third party engineering firms, these specifications contain thousands of pages including in-depth descriptions and possibly even a list of acceptable manufacturers with specific model numbers for every component that is acceptable for inclusion in their projects. The intent with these specifications is to establish a minimum level of quality of installed materials, ensure that installation methods used are acceptable, and meet the construction requirements. Often there are detailed plans developed that attempt to include an indication of every component to be included in the pricing effort. Additionally, many of our clients have rigorous detailed safety standards and expectations that are included as a part of the request for proposal. All of these detailed plans and specifications are prepared in an attempt to allow the construction services buyer to make the selection of the contractor based on the lowest price submitted in response to a detailed Request for Proposal.

While this low bid system of procuring construction services has been around for a long time, both contractors and owners alike have long realized that it is not a great system. What you will likely end up with is a contractor with not enough money in the project to do a great job for you. As a result, they spend a significant part of their effort doing the minimum amount of work needed to get the job built as cheaply as possible, meeting their very tight budget while still meeting your minimum contractual requirements and specifications. Do you really want a contractor to do the minimum that is acceptable, or, is a contractor who will do what is best for your project what you really need?

A few years back I met with the construction procurement executive of an international company who was attempting to improve their construction procurement process. It is not that they had not put a great deal of effort and money into their current process, as over the years they had developed thousands of pages of detailed specifications. In addition to a large in-house staff dedicated to the process, they frequently used a third party CM firm to solicit bids from multiple contractors, to make the selection based on price and to manage the construction process. They still were not happy with the results. Why? First, they were still spending more than necessary to get the job done and they knew it. The cost of their staff plus the cost of the third party CM firm made the total project expensive. Often, those costs far exceeded any savings that may have been realized by the perceived competitive process of low bidding. The low bid system is simply not the best way, not even a good way, in my opinion, to buy construction services. Even the federal Government has recognized that there is more to value than just low price and has established initiatives for Best Value construction procurement strategies. Think for just a minute about what you really want and need. What you need is for someone to come in to your plant and take care of your problem so you can focus on making widgets, or whatever it is that you manufacture/process. You need someone to come in and fix that leak, install that new pipe, set that new piece of equipment, remove the old one, or add on to your existing facility. You need that accomplished quickly and efficiently with little or no disruption to your ongoing operations. You need to maintain your staff’s focus and your personal efforts on making widgets; after all, that is what pays the bills

When that client asked me what I suggested as the best way to procure construction services, I responded, “Pick a contractor that you trust and partner with them.” I truly meant that. They also asked me what made our 20- and 30-year relationships with many of our clients work. The answer is simple. The relationship has to be beneficial for both parties. You need to work together as a team. Your contractor has to do a great job, not simply the minimum expected, and accomplish it for a fair price. Your contractor has to know exactly what you expect, which requires great communication. They must know what is most important to you; cost, schedule, quality, minimal disruption to operations? You have to understand that many of your decisions during the process will affect each of those items. You have to know that you can trust your contractor to provide the level of quality and service that you need for a fair price. You have to allow the contractor to make a fair profit. Contrary to what many believe, contractors operate on razor thin margins. The average profit margin in a good construction market is about 2.7 percent. Believe me, if you get prices from two different contractors that vary by 10 or 15 percent, there IS a scope difference between the two, or one of them does not understand what is expected.

As a contractor who focuses on safety, quality, and client satisfaction, we strive to select clients that value what we have to offer. Just as we do when we hire a new employee, we try to select clients that share our culture. You should have the same consideration when you select your contractor. If you value safety, quality, and an attitude of cooperation and teamwork, we are likely a good selection. If your goal is to get every job constructed as cheaply as possible at the expense of safety or quality or if you think that you have only done your job as a procurement manager if the contractor loses money so you get something for nothing, then we are likely not the right contractor for you.

We understand that there are markets where we just do not belong and that there are clients that are not a good fit for us.

By the way, I took one price on the last new car I bought. I trusted the dealer to do the best that he could for me. I hope you can arrive at that same level of trust with your contractor, whomever you chose.

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Construction of the new Missouri State Park is currently in progress on the grounds of the former Camp Zoe, which is located next to Current River State Park just off Highway 19 in Shannon County, Missouri. Robinson Construction Company of Perryville, Missouri was awarded the $29.2 million contract for construction of the new state park by the State of Missouri in May 2015. Work began on the project in June 2015 and is expected to last approximately one year.

Robinson’s scope of work for this project includes construction of a new bluff top event shelter, 62 concrete paved camper locations, 1 bath house, 9 multi-bedroom cabins, a 20-room lodge with restaurant and general store, day use area with playground, amphitheater and 4 event pavilions, as well as a great deal of landscaping and hardscaping.

It is estimated that approximately 80 construction jobs will be created over the next 12 months as the work on the project progresses.

About Camp Zoe: According to a Missouri State Parks website, Camp Zoe operated as a summer camp for kids from 1929 to 1986. From 2004 to 2010, Camp Zoe was owned and operated by James Tebeau, bass player in The Schwag – a Grateful Dead Tribute Band, and used for hosting music festivals known as “Schwagstock.” In November 2010, the land was seized by the federal government after Tebeau pled guilty to having knowledge that drug dealing was taking place at the festivals. The property was then purchased by the State of Missouri from the federal government at an auction in 2013 for $640,000.

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Robinson Construction Company is extremely proud to have exceeded 500 employees for the first time in company history. On November 19, 2014, payroll checks were processed for 513 employees, with over 200 of those employees working in the western Kentucky area. The company’s 500+ employee count ranks it in an elite class of businesses within the United States and the State of Kentucky. According to the 2011 Census, only 0.3 percent of firms in the US and 3.5 percent of firms in Kentucky employ over 500 employees. When asked to comment on the milestone, Robinson’s Vice President, Paul Findlay, said the following, “We are extremely proud of many things at Robinson Construction - our longevity, the projects we have constructed, and our long list of repeat clients; however, what we are most proud of, is the fact that we are able to provide a livelihood for a growing number of employees each year.”

Findlay elaborated on the economic impact associated with the milestone, commenting, “In addition to the number of employees, we will also exceed $25 million in payroll this year. We could not be more excited about the positive impact for our employees, their families, and the communities in which they live and work.”

Robinson Construction Company began as a heating and air conditioning company in 1946 by Edward G. Robinson. The company was incorporated in the late 1970s under its current president, Frank Robinson, and has experienced moderate growth since that time. In order to better serve the company’s Kentucky clients, Robinson opened an office in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 2005. Since that time, the company’s growth has increased significantly, currently ranking the company No. 82 on ENR Midwest’s Top 100 Contractors list for 2014.

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Jerod Kaufman, Project Development for Robinson Construction Company, recently graduated from the Leadership South Central Kentucky (Leadership SCKY) program sponsored by the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce. Seventeen qualified candidates completed the program.

Leadership SCKY develops and educates current, promising and future leaders throughout a 10-county region. The program facilitates communication and lifelong, peer-to-peer networking among leaders within the regional community to foster region-wide economic development and community progress by serving as a catalyst for problem solving and collaboration. Seventeen individuals were chosen through a competitive selection process to participate in Leadership SCKY. During the sessions, the class studied regional strengths and challenges through lectures, discussions, tours and role-playing activities. The program began in August 2013 and ended in July 2014.

Additionally, Kaufman was chosen to participate in the 2014-2015 Leadership Hopkinsville-Christian County program through the Christian County Chamber of Commerce. The mission of the Leadership Hopkinsville-Christian County program is to systematically inform, challenge and educate the participants regarding opportunities and needs within the community. Through education, the participant will foster an awareness of the dynamics of the social and economic challenges facing our community and help to create a dialogue and rapport amongst the participants and existing community leaders.

Participation in Leadership Hopkinsville-Christian County is a competitive process open to people living or working in Christian County. It is an honor to be chosen for Leadership and program graduates are expected to remain involved in Hopkinsville-Christian County for at least the near future.

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Robert Dunn, Project Manager for Robinson Construction Company, has earned the designation of Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute. The PMP designation demonstrates experience, education, and competency in project management and is a globally recognized standard for the project management profession.

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Robinson Construction Company was recently awarded four new construction contracts for a total of $14.8 million. New contracts include a $5.3 million contract for the erection of pipe racks and galleries and the installation of prefabricated pipe spools; a $4.5 million design-build contract with one of the world's leading agricultural processors for the installation of horizontal collector wells in Decatur, Illinois; a $4 million design-build contract with a global automotive parts manufacturing company for a building expansion project in New Albany, Indiana; and a $1 million contract with a North American leading food company for the installation and modification of conveyors at their facility in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The majority of the work on these projects will be completed with Robinson’s own workforce, utilizing approximately 60 construction employees over the next 8 months.

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In November 2011 Green Plains Renewable Energy (GPRE) announced that BlendStar LLC would own and operate a new, state of the art, ethanol unit train terminal on the BNSF Railway in Birmingham, Alabama. GPRE selected Robinson Construction Company as the general contractor for the $12.2 million project.

The new terminal delivers 385,000 barrels of ethanol per month via 96-car unit trains and over the road trucks. Utilizing eight off-loading pumps, four transfer pumps, a fully-automated rail unloading system, and two above ground storage tanks with 160,000 barrels of storage, the terminal simultaneously loads and unloads rail cars while providing 24-hour truck loading from its four-lane truck load out canopy. The facility’s process and piping design was completed to allow for the future addition of biodiesel storage and delivery components.

Robinson provided several value engineering ideas during the bidding process, several of which were selected for the final design. Construction work on the project lasted 10 months with construction manpower peaking at approximately 60. Operations began at BlendStar’s new facility on December 19, 2012 with the unloading of the first unit train of ethanol. To showcase the new facility, GPRE and BlendStar hosted a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony at the facility on February 13, 2013.

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The government recently awarded Robinson a $2.5 million contract for installation of a new elevated water tower at the Tactical Equipment Maintenance Facility Complex in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri and the replacement of a domestic water tower at Colmery O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka, Kansas for $1.2 million. The latter project will be completed in conjunction with the $6.9 million Community Living Center project that was previously awarded to Robinson and is currently in progress. Robinson will perform as the general contractor on these projects.

Robinson was also recently awarded contracts from private industry customers in the amount of $2.9 million for work in Missouri and Tennessee. Included in the work is the installation of equipment and conveyor systems at a large manufacturing facility in Missouri, renovations and piping installation inside an operational food processing plant in Tennessee, and a design-build contract for a barge access replacement project at a large production facility in Missouri.

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Robinson Construction Company was awarded a $1,095,638 contract from the Whitewater and Allenville Water and Wastewater Coop for a new Wastewater Collection System. Robinson will perform as the general contractor on the project that includes the installation of several manholes and several thousand linear feet of gravity sewer and PVC forcemain. The project is expected to be complete in May 2013.

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Robinson Construction Company was selected by Noranda Aluminum, Inc. to design and build a new Change House Facility at its primary aluminum smelter in New Madrid, Missouri. Robinson’s work on the project consisted of the design and construction of a 20,000 square foot tilt-up concrete wall building with a bar-joist/decking/PVC roof system and enhanced water heating and HVAC systems. This project was completed on schedule in only seven months.

The purpose of the new change house is to provide a place for Noranda’s over 900 employees to shower and change their clothing as they go to and from the work environment and also to increase capacity to accommodate for future plant growth. The new facility houses restrooms, showers, a laundry area, and nearly 2000 lockers with room to accommodate approximately 3000 total lockers. This will allow every employee to have one full-sized locker, one half-sized locker, and one additional locker to store work clothes, street clothes, safety gear, and clean uniforms.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held at Noranda’s new change house facility on Friday, May 4, 2012. Noranda Aluminum Holding Corporation is a leading North American integrated producer of value-added primary aluminum products and high quality rolled aluminum coils. All of their primary aluminum production occurs at their smelter facility in New Madrid.

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