How to Choose a Commercial General Contractor in Pittsburgh
Jane Schmitt, Contributing writer
For business owners, the first step in finding a commercial developer or general contractor is taking a good, hard look at what you want and need in terms of new construction or a renovation project. A well-defined plan sets the tone for success, whether it’s an office building, restaurant, hospital, retail, industrial or mixed-use space.
“The most common problem is people don’t know what they want vs. what they need,” says Michael Bellaman, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors. “There’s a difference. You have to be honest about that. Before selecting a contractor, the buyer has to be clear about want vs. need in terms of the service level, the scope of work they’re looking for, the level of quality that they want, safety, the schedule and of course the budget.”
Study your needs, determine your budget and prepare an outline of the proposed project.
“Once you have that clarity, document that and utilize it as a basis for contractors to propose to you on,” Bellaman says. “That way, you’ll be able to align your selection criteria with those needs and wants with their proposals, and you’ll be able to make an apples-to-apples comparison.”
The national association, based in Arlington, Va., has 75 chapters representing more than 23,000 construction and construction-related firms with nearly 2 million employees, according to its website. They range from small, independent operations to industry giants that tout their capabilities, specialties and experience in building quality, high-performance structures.
Get information about companies in your region via trade groups:
Associated Builders and Contractors has a “Locate a Chapter” link on its website that directs visitors to state chapters. There you’ll find names, phone numbers and email addresses for staff members who can provide information on local contractors.
Says Bellaman: “We get (inquiries) all the time, mostly at the local levels, the local chapters, from people who would like to know the list of our members that have capabilities of building hospitals, for example.”
The Associated General Contractors of America, meanwhile, has as its tagline “Quality People. Quality Projects.” Start with the “Find a Chapter” or “Member Directory” links on its website for names and profiles of member firms.
“We have 30,000 construction firm members around the country,” says Brian Turmail, senior director of public affairs. “Everything from small, family owned firms to some of the largest construction firms in the world.”
The AGC has 95 chapters whose members are general and specialty contractors and service providers. It’s based in Arlington, as well.
“We think (we’re) a good place to check in and see,” Turmail says. “Most of our chapters have a listing of their members by where they operate. So it’s a good place to see what contractors are doing business (locally). … We like to think that anyone who has the AGC logo on their Web page or their office is a high-quality construction firm.”
Other groups that may be helpful are the not-for-profit Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) and Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA).
The ultimate goal for business owners? Finding a reputable company that can deliver great space at a fair rate.
More advice for those considering a building project:
Pay attention to word-of-mouth referrals.
Check references of contractors/developers.
“It’s always good to check,” Turmail says. “A firm should be able to tell you who else they perform work for. As you would with an employee, check references. See if the kind of work they performed is similar to what you have in mind,”
Don’t select a contractor solely on price. Remember: You usually get what you pay for.
Company websites can be a valuable source of information because they outline specialties and often list current and completed projects.
Relationship is a key word.
“As with any other business relationship, do you feel comfortable working with the people who will be involved in your project?” Turmail says. “They may be great contractors, but construction is ultimately about relationships – understanding the needs of the owners and being able to have an open channel of communication between the owner and the firm.”
Along those lines, schedule an interview with a developer you are considering. Dig in and ask questions. Compatibility is important. A good fit will encourage trust, and that’s critical to a successful project.
Every project has different requirements, whether it’s office space or clean-room space or health care. Experience and a good track record are important. Check out a firm’s technical capabilities and safety record.
For more information, check with these organizations:
Associated Builders and Contractors
Associated General Contractors of America
Construction Users Roundtable
Building Owners and Managers Association International