40 years for United Construction: Company’s diverse projects range from giant industrial to a child’s fantasy daycare
This story is publishing in the January, 29, 2018, edition of the Northern Nevada Real Estate Journal, a quarterly publication of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly.
RENO, Nev. — United Construction was founded in 1978 by longtime Reno industrial developer Michael Dermody and construction expert Tony Taormina to provide a higher level of construction services for industrial projects in northern Nevada.
Although United Construction will celebrate its 40th anniversary in March, the company still maintains a sharp focus on its roots of performing design-build and collaborative project deliveries.
“United was really focused on being a company that stood behind quality, schedule, pricing and customer service,” said Craig Willcut, president of United Construction. Willcut was hired in 1999 to help grow and diversify the company.
For the most part, United remained focused on its initial partnership to provide construction services for Dermody Properties’ long list of northern Nevada industrial projects.
Over time, though, the company has grown to become a large player in the western region construction scene increasing their customer base to include a variety of end-users and additional developers such as Prologis, LDK, DCT Industrial, and Crow Holdings Industrial.
Adapting to an evolving industry
United Construction currently has active jobs in Nevada and California, but it is licensed to work in 13 western-area states. United opened a second office in Sacramento in July of 2016 to better serve its growing base of California customers. The company has just over 60 employees between its two offices.
Willcut said that when he first joined United in the late 1990s, one of the biggest challenges was to shake the notion that United Construction provided just tilt-up construction services since tilt-up was the company’s primary focus for more than two decades before he joined.
“That is our bread and butter, and we do it well, but that’s not all we do well,” Willcut said. “United Construction built seven out of the eight middle schools for the Washoe County School District. We have done retail, office — we have a big portfolio of diverse customers besides warehouses.”
Notable projects in Northern Nevada outside of the big box industrial arena include the new Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows William N. Pennington Facility on Foster Drive; University Studies Abroad Consortium’s new three-story office building adjacent to the UNR Campus; Phase I of Lifechurch’s campus development in south Reno — Kidslife Child Development Center; Kendyl Depoali Middle School in South Meadows; and the new Downtown Reno Starbucks that was built on top of the US Bank underground parking garage.
Fostering a culture of success
Like several of United’s longtime competitors in Northern Nevada, there was never much need to advertise or market the company’s services — work typically walked through the front door, Willcut said.
Times have changed, and in order to expand the company, United has created a marketing and business development strategy to brand themselves locally and in new markets. The longevity of United Construction is in part rooted in the level of service it seeks to provide to new and repeat customers, Willcut adds.
United is centered on promoting its core culture of “Build United,” a mission to provide integrity, accountability, pride, respect and resourcefulness to its customers. While that may sound like a marketing initiative, it’s one of the primary reasons behind the company’s growth and repeat customers.
“We are going to do right on the job, and that customer is going to come back because of the way we treated them. That is why we get repeat customers – it’s because of our culture,” Willcut said.
Take United’s Sacramento office as an example. It opened just over 18 months ago with zero work. In its first year the office did about $15 million in work in California, but last year it did more than $90 million, with a strong backlog going into the New Year.
Most of the work in California has been for industrial developers. United has seven main customers in California.
“One of the reasons we have been successful (in California) is because our competitors in that market weren’t delivering like we do,” Willcut said. “Our customers heard what we have to say, and they checked our references. They know who we are and how we operate, and know that regardless of who we put on the job, they share our culture and work ethic.”
‘Putting people in the right positions’
United does a lot of training to promote its mission statement, including regular all-hands meetings and off-site gatherings, and a monthly newsletter featuring an employee who clearly demonstrates the company’s values. It’s part of what helped the company weather the tough times of the recession.
United also has created several key roles that have also helped its growth. Chief Operating Officer Jim Miller joined United Construction in 2017 as a member of the executive team. Miller oversees all operations for the company.
United also added its first business development position when they hired Raymond Zavalla five years ago. Marketing and Communications Manager Rachel Yelley joined four years ago, and it now has its own fulltime IT person in Internet Technology Manager Angela Bonini as well.
“We have done a lot of internal growth with putting people in the right positions,” Willcut said.
As the company moves into a new decade, expect more of the same, he added.
“We will continue to grow at a sustainable pace with our customers. That has been the focus of United. You will see us diversify even more. In northern Nevada right now, 50 percent of our work is distribution buildings. The other 50 percent is office buildings, schools and things like that. You will see a big diversification from United away from one industry segment being the biggest part of our work.”
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.