Amid Central Texas’ ongoing building boom, DPR Construction is one of the region’s busiest construction firms, with an ever-expanding list of high-profile projects bearing its banner.
Current projects for the company include Charles Schwab’s new Gracy Farms campus in North Austin; a 32-story tower at Seventh Street and Congress Avenue in downtown Austin that will house Aloft and Element hotels; the Third + Shoal office high-rise under construction downtown; and an academic building for the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business that is rising at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Guadalupe Street.
DPR also was one of the primary builders for Domain Northside, a new section at the popular Domain in North Austin, where the firm also is about to start work on two office towers.
DPR also was one of two general contractors that built the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Austin. Indiana-based White Lodging Services Corp., which developed the JW Marriott, also has chosen DPR for its next downtown hotel, a Marriott that is due to break ground this summer just west of the Austin Convention Center.
These are but a few of the projects for a firm that has experienced extraordinary growth in revenue and headcount since 2013, the year it acquired Atlanta-based Hardin Construction Co.
DPR’s Central region, which includes, Austin, Dallas and Houston, has grown to $925 million in revenue, an increase of almost 300 percent from 2013. The figure accounts for about 21 percent of the firm’s $4.5 billion in revenue companywide.
In the Austin area alone,revenue has soared to a projected $375 million this year, up from $202 million in 2013.
Of DPR’s nearly 4,600 employees, 543 work in the Austin area, up from 170 people in 2013. Those include both salaried and administrative employees and craftspeople.
Bobby Dillard, founding principal of Cielo Property Group, which is developing Third + Shoal, said: “We chose DPR because they have a great local team and a lot of experience building in downtown Austin.”
Dustin Louderback, director of full-service hotels for White Lodging in Austin, said DPR has its hand in many of downtown’s highest-profile projects.
“Their reputation in the industry is top-notch,” Louderback said. “They have just really good builders.”
Hotel projects fall into the commercial real estate category for DPR, one of its core markets. Other industries in which it builds include health care, higher education, technology life sciences and entertainment.
DPR said the company’s growth locally is being fueled by factors includingCalifornia companies relocating or expanding here; the need for more hotel rooms; the new University of Texas medical school and teaching hospital under construction downtown; and the region’s overall population boom.
The American-Statesman recently sat down with three members of DPR’s Austin leadership team — Matt Hoglund, Matt Murphy and Bryan Kent — to talk about the company’s projects, its growth and more. Along with a sit-down interview, Hoglund, Murphy and Kent collectively provided written responses to the following questions:
American-Statesman: What have been some of the firm’s most challenging projects, and how did DPR meet those challenges?
DPR: Our downtown projects are challenging due to the tight site constraints, plus frequent downtown events and road closures. These challenges require us to pay even more attention to the planning and scheduling process. Additionally, the recent change to when concrete can be poured downtown continues to be a real challenge. Again, it’s the attention to the schedule and advanced planning that allow us to stick with our committed schedules for projects.
What issues are front and center right now for the general contracting industry?
DPR: With so much construction work, there remains a skilled labor shortage. We’re fortunate that we have well-trained, in-house labor for many construction trades, but getting the community at large to understand that not everyone is destined to graduate from a four-year university and that you can make a great living in construction remains challenging.
This labor market requires us to be more innovative in the way we tackle a project. There is a big focus on finding a way to increase productivity in the industry. One of the ways we’re doing that is shifting a lot of the work out of the field and into warehouses for prefabrication off site, then delivering it to the project.
What are the main ways you have seen Austin change over time?
Cities, people, culture, the world – everything evolves and changes over time. So many of the changes taking place here in Austin have created a lot of opportunities for people to start businesses, grow businesses and give back in bigger ways to the communities. Some of the change has made long-time residents move out of town or not feel like this is Austin anymore, but if nothing changed and we stayed stagnant, we would not be able to provide the opportunities we have been given in this economy.
We are also seeing new diversification into untapped markets with the building of new institutional projects such as the UT Medical School. Projects like these open the doors to new diverse markets, such as biomedical and life sciences. This is an important and needed to step to help Austin diversify its market sectors and protect itself from outside events that can hurt our local economy like the tech bust of the early 2000s.
What are some challenges of working in Austin, in terms of the city’s review and permitting process?
Every city has its own set of challenges; in Austin, it’s all about growing pains. A tidal wave of proposed projects hit the city about five years ago and it really hasn’t slowed down since – that would be overwhelming for any city in the country. The city is continuing to work on trying to streamline the permitting process, but it will take some time, and we’ll continue to work with them through the process.
With all the building going on in the Austin metro, some might wonder how well-built the projects are. What do you think?
This is certainly a concern in our industry, especially locally where there are a number of new companies and workers on projects who are new to construction in general. Some just don’t have the training or expertise that they may say they have. Choosing subcontractor partners nowadays is paramount to ensuring a quality project — you have to know who you are working with. DPR’s ability to perform with a quality trained workforce is a real differentiator for us. We know our guys will show up each day and what training they have.
What is your take on all the growth the Central Texas region is seeing? Is it sustainable?
There are always cycles of growth and a slowdown is inevitable. Although we have a number of projects in the cue, I think we’re all curious to see what the new “normal” is as far as what sustainable growth and construction revenues are in Central Texas as we grow closer to a slowdown. However, with the boom in population and diversification into new market sectors, we don’t foresee the large peaks and valleys of the past that plagued Austin’s economy.
What do you think could precipitate the next downturn? Most experts say it will be a factor or factors outside of Austin and Texas.
If all the projects we know of actually start in the next 18 months, I don’t see a slowdown in Austin of construction until about 2020 at the earliest. It is unlikely that this would happen, as the optimism in the marketplace for our local economy is as strong as we have seen. If there is a downturn, we agree, it will come from an outside influencer in the country.
What do you think is/are the single-most important issue(s) facing the city currently, and what do you think should be the city’s approach in tackling those?
Like everyone always says, our No. 1 issue is traffic and congestion. We have to find a way to more efficiently move people in and around the city versus sitting in traffic for hours every day. The longer we wait the exponentially harder it will be to implement later.
What steps do you think the city should be taking as it looks to plan ahead for growth?
Continue to invest and support transportation improvements and enhancements.
What they do: National general contractor and construction manager
Founded: July 1990 by Doug Woods, Peter Nosler and Ron Davidowski
Headquarters: Redwood City, Calif.
Office locations: 27 cities, including its Central region comprised of Austin, Dallas and Houston.
Employees: 4,596 companywide, including 543 in the Austin area
2017 revenue: $4.5 billion (projected)