When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going
From Ho'oku, First Quarter 2011
For more than a century, the military’s presence in Hawaii has contributed to driving our islands’ economy and making the state, our country and the world a safer place. From defending our nation and protecting the freedoms of others, to assisting with natural disasters and humanitarian efforts, we can always count on the military to be there in a time of need.
In recent years, since the housing market crashed and many private sector projects were halted, our local contractors have been working harder than ever just to survive. But with the help of Hawaii’s congressional delegation and support of our federal government, many of Hawaii’s contractors found steady work building federal projects that have enabled them to persevere through these difficult times and even thrive.
“Through these tough economic years, the federal government’s commitment to investing in military facilities and other infrastructure projects in Hawaii has provided work for the local construction industry,” said John White, executive director of The Pacific Resource Partnership. “From their investment, our Hawaii-based contractors have been able to sustain jobs for their employees and also provide highquality products for the military in Hawaii.”
The federal funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 was especially helpful in providing work opportunities to Hawaiibased contractors and construction suppliers. Several major construction projects happening throughout the state are a result of funding from the ARRA, including the building of the Ane Keohokalole Highway by Nan Inc., repair of Wharf S1 at Pearl Harbor by Healy Tibbitts Builders, Inc. and renovation of the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse by Swinerton Builders.
“The ARRA funds have been instrumental in quickly getting much-needed federal construction projects off the ground and helping to ensure work for local contractors,” remarked White. “They have also really helped to improve the standards within our local construction industry. With large amounts of the money spent on military projects, contractors had to learn how to adapt and conform to the military’s high standards and requirements, which followed through in other projects.”
For Watts Constructors, LLC A Weitz Company, working on high-profile military construction projects has proven both challenging and rewarding.
“We definitely had to do our due diligence and learn about what it takes to compete in the military market,” said Denny Watts, president of Watts Constructors. “The processes are very different than on the commercial side. The safety and quality control requirements are much higher, which we found challenging at first, yet extremely beneficial because it pushed us to be better and safer.”
With military construction consuming 99 percent of its business, the past few years have certainly been busy for Watts Constructors, and the company is grateful for the jobs the military has provided. “While the commercial markets have slowed down during the economic turndown, we’ve actually been able to survive and thrive by focusing primarily on federal projects,” added Watts.
Like Watts Constructors, Designer Built Systems, Inc. has been enjoying a steady flow of military projects. The small construction company began as a single family residential homes builder in 1991 and started picking up federal jobs in 1995. Military construction now consumes 75 percent of its business, and Designer Built Systems, Inc. president Randy Lau is grateful for the many benefits that these projects have brought to the company.
“Military construction is pretty independent of our state economy so the demand remains consistent,” remarked Lau. “Also, the military’s work safety plans are very stringent and need to be complied with, and it’s a requirement to be organized, planned out and quality controlled. As a result, we’ve adapted these principals and standards as part of our corporate culture.”
Having to diligently learn everything, from the different project management styles of each military branch to understanding the military’s many special requirements and regulations, has helped Designer Built Systems, Inc. in its work on major local military projects. “We’ve really enjoyed all of our military projects as they’ve enabled us to learn a lot and grow as a company. Working with the military has been and continues to be a wonderful and rewarding experience,” said Lau.
Unlike Designer Built Systems, Inc. and Watts Constructors, which are relatively young companies, Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company, Inc. has been in business for more than 100 years. Since 1902, Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company, Inc. has helped to shape Oahu’s landscape by constructing many of the island’s most iconic landmarks, including Pearl Harbor, Honolulu International Airport and Ala Moana Center. With big-name projects in its past, Hawaiian Dredging’s most recent work with the military is not as recognizable but is certainly no less important. And despite its many years of experience, like its counterparts, Hawaiian Dredging also found the military’s stiff regulations to be challenging albeit highly engaging and rewarding.
“Working on military projects recently has been a distinct privilege for our company. The projects have been challenging and very interesting. Project requirements and standards are demanding and keep us on our toes,” remarked William J. Wilson, president, Hawaiian Dreading Construction Company, Inc. “We are honored to work on behalf of the brave men and women who serve our country.”
The depressed economy that has plagued our nation over the past few years has certainly been tough on every industry. But, they say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And when times got tough, with the help of the U.S. military and federal funding, Hawaii’s construction industry was able to keep going.