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Monday, 02 September 2013 22:00

O-A-K branches out to Kalamazoo

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Grand Rapids-based contractor Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. will expand to the Kalamazoo market with a new office in the Haymarket Building at 161 Michigan Avenue, as shown in this rendering. Grand Rapids-based contractor Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. will expand to the Kalamazoo market with a new office in the Haymarket Building at 161 Michigan Avenue, as shown in this rendering. COURTESY IMAGE

A Grand Rapids-based construction firm hopes to open doors to more opportunities with a new office in Southwest Michigan.

Opening a Kalamazoo office should help Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. grow its book of business, particularly with education clients, as well as establish better relationships with local architects, President Frank Stanek said in an exclusive interview with MiBiz.

The 122-year-old contractor currently is building out a new 1,800-square-foot office located on the ground floor of the Haymarket Building at 161 East Michigan Avenue in the heart of downtown Kalamazoo. It expects the office to open in November.

Stanek said the expansion fulfills a key tenet of the firm’s strategic plan that has been roughly four years in the making and that builds off the contractor’s history of projects in Southwest Michigan.

The company plans to branch out from the Kalamazoo office to build its business throughout the region in St. Joseph, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor and Niles, Stanek said.

O-A-K, which has a speciality in building K-12 educational systems, has worked on roughly 50 school districts along the Southwestern Michigan corridor.

“It’s not like we’re coming down there for the first time,” he said. “We have some momentum with current projects.”

Currently, the company is working with St. Joseph Intermediate School District and Colon Community Schools and is finishing a project with Coloma Community Schools, to name a few.

A healthier project backlog related to an uptick in tenant improvement projects and industrial construction and an increase in business at the firm’s Florida-based division made the Kalamazoo expansion possible, Stanek said.

As it sought a base of operations in Southwest Michigan, O-A-K focused on locating its presence in downtown Kalamazoo.

“This has been on the books for a while now as to how we’re going to get this office open,” he said. “It only made sense to select downtown Kalamazoo.”

Despite having several internal candidates, the firm’s board also decided to find someone to lead the new office who was already on the ground and familiar with the market, Stanek said.

The name that rose to the top of the list was very familiar to Stanek. That’s because it was his brother, Tom Stanek, a Kalamazoo native who’s worked at CSM Group for the last 19 years.

“When his name was brought up, I stood back a bit,” Frank Stanek said. “But the board interviewed him and then took a vote and offered him the position.”

Tom Stanek will serve as director of operations for the Kalamazoo office. He has 24 years of experience in the industry and worked in the past on projects for the school districts in Kalamazoo, Otsego and Marshall.

Operating a satellite office is also nothing new for O-A-K, which has a fully staffed general contracting operation in southwest Florida that includes six industry professionals and 15 graduate students. O-A-K also owned Muskegon Construction Co., which it consolidated with the Grand Rapids office in February 2012 after the division’s president left the company.

In developing a strategy that eventually led to the contractor targeting Kalamazoo, O-A-K considered expanding in other directions, but felt opening an office in Southwest Michigan afforded the company the best opportunities, Frank Stanek said.

“We did ask the question, ‘Why not go east instead of south?’” he said. “But our experience in (West Michigan) and moving to Kalamazoo felt like a more comfortable move at the time. That’s not to say we won’t go east down the line.”

The Kalamazoo office is another potential stepping stone to other markets further south and across the border into Indiana, Frank Stanek said.

“We’re taking a look at South Bend, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves,” he said. “However, there is that potential down there.”

For the short term, O-A-K remains committed to establishing itself in the greater Southwest Michigan area and to hiring a staff to run the new office, Tom Stanek said.

“My main focus right now is to continue learning O-A-K’s culture and how they do their work process, and meeting existing clients,” he said.

When MiBiz spoke with Tom Stanek during his third week on the job, he said the transition has been fairly smooth and that he’s coming to the company at a time when the market is turning to the positive.

“It’s not like it was four or five years ago,” he said. “I’m starting to see architects and engineers getting more business, and that’s a sign of owners out there seeking info, getting pre-bonding or starting designs. Knowing that they’re getting business — while the construction could be a couple years down the road — that’s a sign that things are picking up.”

Tom Stanek said the subcontractors he’s been speaking with are also staying busy. Many of them are wishing they could find more people to hire.

“I’m excited that O-A-K put me in this position,” he said. “I know it’s going to be hard, but I know we’re going to do well.”

While O-A-K’s primary business plan is focused on the K-12 sector, the company has also taken notice of the growing higher education sector in and around Kalamazoo and is eyeing new opportunities in that market. That could include projects at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College or Kalamazoo College.

Health care development in the region is another opportunity, but Frank Stanek said the company will first focus on the areas in which O-A-K is already established.

“We have a defined business target, but hopefully we grow into the other sectors,” Frank Stanek said. “In the move down there, you have Borgess and Bronson, and for us to go down there and not think about that would be foolish. That’s on the horizon.”

Read 4349 times Last modified on Monday, 02 September 2013 21:07