Construction Today - July 2016 - 160

Residential | HILL CONSTRUCTION

Lowcountry Leaders

HILL CONSTRUCTION WEATHERED THE RECESSION BY BROADENING ITS PROJECTS. BY TIM O'CONNOR

T

he Great Recession was a dry period for the construction industry,
but when a rare project did emerge
owners sought contractors that
they were confident would not go under
and would see the building through. In the
Lowcountry region along South Carolina's
coast, that contractor was Hill Construction.
Prior to the recession, Hill Construction
focused on commercial projects that were
$2 million or more. But like many in the
construction industry, the company had to
diversify to remain profitable. It expanded
its range to $50,000 to $20 million and took
on new types of projects such as medical
offices and multi-family complexes.
Although it broadened its range, the
company stayed committed to the Lowcountry market. "Typically, you either have
to expand your geographic region or you
have to diversify," President Bob Dunn says.
"We chose to diversify within our region."
Some of that diversification came in terms
of a new kind of customer. Hill Construction made its name in the private market,
but had to look elsewhere as bank lending
ceased and the number of new projects fell
off. "When we entered the recession we were
forced really to pursue some projects in the
public sectors," Dunn explains. Hill Construction had been out of the public sector
for 20 years but at various points during the
Great Recession public projects made up
nearly 100 percent of the company's volume.
When the economy began to rebound
and private projects came back, the company saw the value of keeping a presence in
the public market. "We decided we were not
totally going to get away from the public bid
sector," Dunn says. Today, about 30 percent
of the company's volume is public bid
projects. Submitting a winning bid grants
some security, as projects are almost guaranteed to start within 30 days. Dunn says
the bidding process also keeps the company
competitive with pricing and up to date on
subcontractor activity.

160

CONSTRUCTION-TODAY.COM JULY 2016

the recession, Hill
ยป Following
Construction chose to diversify
in South Carolina's Lowcountry.

Reputation for Service
Edwin Hill founded Hill Construction in
1956, later bringing in his son, Burrow Hill,
as a partner in 1977. Dunn joined the firm
in 1985 and became a partner five years
later at the same time Edwin Hill retired.
The company added Vice President of Operations Gene Garrett and Vice President of
Business Development Chip Crane as partners in 2007. Burrow Hill retired in 2010,
handing the president role off to Dunn.
The company typically undertakes about
15 projects at any given time. Whenever
possible, Hill Construction prefers to be involved with a project at or before the design
phase. Sometimes the project design falls
under Hill Construction's purview, in which
case it hires a third-party designer, and
other times the company works in concert
with a design team contracted by the owner.
Hill Construction often self-performs
between 20 and 30 percent of a project and
subcontracts out the rest. The company has
a database of 5,200 suppliers and subcontractors it draws from on each job. The

Hill Construction
www.hillcon.com
* Headquarters: Charleston, S.C.
* Employees: 50
* Specia y: Construction ervices

"We chose to diversify wi in our
region."
- Bob Dunn, Presidente

philosophy of early involvement extends
to those contractors. Hill Construction looks
for subcontractors that have expertise and
can provide input and make pricing evaluations that help in decision-making.
Another important consideration in
choosing subcontractors is whether they will
follow Hill Construction's lead in avoiding
change-orders. "We're also looking for that
same level of commitment from subcontractors," Dunn says. "We expect and ensure
all subcontractor proposals include their
complete scope of work. We want our focus
to be on building and not on subcontractor


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