Paving the Way: Construction Industry Helps Offices Adapt to Change

As the construction industry enters its prime season, professionals in the field say the remainder of 2022 is destined to be very active as companies manage a number of projects in the area, all the while keeping up with trends and navigating new challenges.

Sustainability and Efficiency

While sustainable design is not a new trend, the pandemic has brought to life a new definition — beyond renewable energy, recyclable materials, and zero emissions — that includes the social aspects of sustainable practice, specifically the importance of mental and physical health and well-being. At DLR Group, Design Leader Beau Johnson said the firm is seeing a significant shift across all market sectors as clients and future occupants look to address this growing consciousness.

“It’s essential that architects and designers respond to this growing demand by enhancing the user experience within the physical environments we’re creating,” Johnson said.
Attracting talent is another huge trend, according to Ben Reicks, project director at JE Dunn, who said buildings are being designed to specifically meet employees’ needs in order to help combat the workforce shortage and attract younger generations.

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R&R Commerce park warehouse III (Courtesy of Darland Construction)

“There’s a new priority on high-end amenities including expansive workout facilities, bars/lounges, garden terraces, and free or reduced-cost dining facilities,” Reicks said.
Additionally, Reicks said companies are being forced to adapt to the hybrid office model that gained popularity during the pandemic. Many are implementing hoteling office spaces that employees reserve online one to three days a week.

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“This increases space efficiency by eliminating designated offices that would be empty half the week,” Reicks said. “Both trends are intended to entice individuals to come to the office and generate or renew a strong company culture.”

Locally in Omaha, the industry is also experiencing the impact of global supply chain disruptions. Adam Simpson, project manager at Darland Construction, said the company has worked with its subcontractors, design teams, and other industry partners to adjust product selections based on material availability. Being proactive and planning for these disruptions to the process has been key to maintaining schedules and keeping projects on budget.

“Constant feedback to the design teams is required to keep them knowledgeable about trends we are seeing from suppliers and manufacturers,” Simpson said. “We have had great responses from the architects and engineers collaborating on alternatives and still maintaining the functionality, aesthetics, and quality that the owner and design team require in the building.”

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Beth El Synagogue (Courtesy of Darland Construction)

The overall industry is also seeing volatility unseen in recent times. Kevin Welker, senior vice president at Kiewit Building Group, said inflation, current commodity and labor conditions demand accurate designs that account for both material availability and procurement time paired with pricing within project budgets. Getting the contractor involved early helps eliminate the surprises that delay projects and break budgets, Welker said.

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Additional trends in designs have been focused on efficient building systems and value-added product selections, which lead to more predictable procurement, said Ron Weis, vice president of pre-construction at Lueder Construction.

“The areas that the industry and Lueder are focused on are the technology that enhances efficiencies,” Weis said. “Our VDC program maximizes construction through 4D scheduling and pre-construction coordination with our design and trade partners. We also use drones, 3D cameras, and layout equipment to coordinate and document construction activity accurately.”

Undoubtedly, the traditional work model that was once standard has shifted post pandemic, which has led to a number of new trends. Travis Justice, director of business development and marketing at MCL Construction, said features like improved mechanical systems, the return of individual offices, and the demand for high quality sustainable and reusable materials are being made to accommodate to the changing times.

Growing in 2022

Over the past two years, there has been a societal shift in how and where employees work, leading to the work-from-home movement. However, Johnson said many companies are heading back to the office in some capacity. Specifically in Omaha, the leasing of office space is trending in an upward direction. After being remote, companies and their employees are realizing the importance of social interactions within the workplace.

“We’re responding by reassessing the role of the office and creating flexible environments that include those desired social spaces, serendipitous interactions, and new modalities of working,” Johnson said.

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Carson Group Headquarters (Courtesy of JE Dunn)

Reicks said Omaha has recently seen record-breaking growth, and that will continue into 2022 and beyond. Projects that delayed start or paused for the pandemic are moving forward, along with new projects designed around revised parameters as a response to new consumer trends.

“There are a broad range of projects happening across the Metro, including data centers, health care facilities, sports complexes, and office spaces,” Reicks said. “Personally, I think it’s special that throughout the pandemic, Omaha continued to adapt and thrive. Our city has kept the data flowing, the community healthy, and workers employed. Because of this emphasis on growth, there are some really exciting projects in our future that will help strengthen the city’s urban core and improve mobility and connection.”

This active year brings an uptick in community-based health care. Darland Construction is underway on the new MD West One Medical Office at Fountain Ridge and recently broke ground on a CHI Health Clinic in Elkhorn. Simpson said transportation and distribution have remained strong throughout the pandemic, and the company is also wrapping up Warehouse IV at R&R Commerce Park, a more than one-million-square-foot industrial park in Sarpy County.

“We’ve seen community gathering spaces looking to remodel or expand, as well,” Simpson said. “After two years of social distancing, people are anxious to get back to those spaces. We’re working at Beth El Synagogue, Miller Park Pavilion and have some really exciting things happening with the Jewish Community Center.”

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H&H Steel Ridge Coordination (Courtesy of Lueder Construction)

From Omaha Performing Art’s new Steelhouse venue to the Riverfront Revitalization/Gene Leahy Mall, to Kiewit Luminarium, to the new Douglas County Justice Center to the Joslyn Museum addition, Omaha is showing its strength as an excellent place to do business.
“A good barometer of a growing and healthy city is active construction in the downtown area,” Welker said. “Greater Omaha is definitely healthy and growing.”

Omaha is also seeing a lot of multi-family projects, primarily in the midtown and downtown areas. Another market sector that is seeing activity is warehousing and industrial office and storage/maintenance buildings, Weis said.

“Owners also realize the benefits of adding a construction manager to a project at the conceptual design phases,” Weis said. “This has allowed the owner, design team, and Lueder to vet through MEP systems [mechanical, electrical and plumbing], value-added items, alternate product selections, and coordinate all scopes of work from the inception of design.”

Additionally, the education and health care markets didn’t slow down much during the pandemic, and Justice said activity is happening in the corporate office and retail markets as businesses return to a new normal.

Working through Challenges

From production and material delays to inflation, the built environment is experiencing significant challenges. While navigating elongated lead times and increasing costs, DLR Group design teams are working with construction partners to assess – and sometimes reassess – design and product choices while maintaining project goals and minimizing impacts to the overall schedule.

“We are in constant communication with our clients and contractors to ensure the entire team is aligned in the collective direction forward,” Johnson said.

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Centris Federal Credit Union Headquarters (Courtesy of MCL Construction)

Along with material shortages and inflation, the availability of skilled craft is another challenge that is faced daily. To ensure material is onsite when needed and to reduce risk of inflationary increases, Reicks said JE Dunn works with owners, trade partners, and design teams to develop early procurement strategies.

“It’s a balancing act in which we rely on our internal economists and trade partners to make decisions to lock in pricing or wait for a peak to drop,” Reicks said. “Overall, it’s the tradespeople who make a project successful. We are fortunate in the Midwest to have the hardest working craft individuals who continue to rise to the challenge.”

While not a bad problem to have, the sheer volume of construction work in Omaha over the last five years has certainly made skilled-labor a challenge.

“The last two years have shown us how to adapt to change and prepare for challenges we had no idea would even exist,” Simpson said. “A lot of my work is in health care construction so we have to be ready to shift focus just as quickly as our clients on the frontlines.”

Because of the scarcity of a skilled labor pool to draw from continues to be a big challenge, Welker said this requires an accurate and detailed look-ahead at schedules to communicate field work activities that may take longer or require work around contingency plans.

Tackling challenges is all part of the job, according to Weis, who said Lueder has found ways to alleviate issues.

Kiewit-Luminarium
The Kiewit Luminarium (Courtesy of Kiewit)

When it comes to limited skilled workers, Weis said Lueder continues to listen to the needs of its carpenters in order to retain talent. The company is also hiring and training constantly in an effort to grow its team.

Technology adoption is also a hurdle, and Weis said Lueder has a VDC Manager, Matt Bowers, who has pushed the company and the industry to make needed changes.

“For the past several years, we have changed the way we do work and how we can positively impact our projects through technology, and we have seen significant progress through our efforts,” Weis said. “Technology is constantly changing; we are committed to being the industry leaders.”

In order to maximize the value in a project and to get what is desired, Justice said it’s important to partner with an architect and contractor at the same time.

“We have tracked material escalation over the past two years and have a proven plan to help our clients maximize their purchases and buying power during construction,” Justice said.

One thing is for sure, even as trends shift and challenges arise, the Omaha construction community continues to pave the way for growth in Omaha.

Current State of Jobs and Education in Construction

Although the pandemic certainly exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains, fortunately, construction projects did not slow down. Currently, builders are having difficulty predicting when materials are going to arrive and the industry is still seeing pandemic-induced supply shortages, affecting key materials such as lumber, paint, aluminum, steel and cement. The home building industry continues to experience a shortage of skilled labor to complete jobs. Lack of skilled construction labor is a crucial limiting factor for expanding home construction and improving housing inventory and affordability. When it comes to continuing education, MOBA provides classes on a regular basis. Most recently, MOBA hosted an Economic Housing Forecast event that featured an Economist from the Federal Reserve Bank and founder of the nationwide Market Graphics Research Group to address Omaha’s housing market.

Industry experts say the heavy-highway construction industry is as positive as ever, especially as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help fund a large amount of highway, bridge, airport, and water works projects in Nebraska over the next five to seven years. Because of this increase in funds and projects, even more open jobs in the construction industry will be created. Construction careers offer high wages, no college debt and on-the-job training. AGC Nebraska encourages those looking to start making money faster in a career field that will only continue to grow to visit www.agcne.org or www.paveyourownway.org for more information about the industry and career opportunities.