Canton company’s president sees encouraging economic signs.
By: Alex Spanko | Photo by: Gary Higgins (Patriot Ledger)
Timberline Construction Corp. may not be a household name. But if you’ve ever picked up a latte at the Starbucks in Marshfield, or made it through the O’Neill Tunnel without losing your cellphone signal, you’ve benefited from the Canton-based firm’s handiwork. Company President Steven Kelly said Timberline does about 40 percent of Starbucks’ construction work in New England. Its Starbucks projects have included shops in Marshfield, Canton and Braintree. In addition, Timberline was behind the installation of multi- carrier cellphone infrastructure for the Big Dig tunnels in 2008.
That setup – known as a distributed antenna system – brought reception to customers of multiple cellphone companies. Kelly had also been involved in the installation of carrier-specific cell sites in the Sumner, Callahan, Prudential and Ted Williams tunnels, either with Timberline or in his previous job as a project manager for the Bostonbased Payton Construction Corp., he said.
Kelly, 44, bought Timberline in 2002, and slowly expanded its focus from telecommunications jobs to a wider range of commercial projects, such as supermarket makeovers and restaurant construction.
Though the vast majority of its projects involve existing properties, Timberline recently completed two large ground-up projects: Canton’s new Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel, and a 45,000-square-foot LA Fitness club in Stoughton.
Kelly, a Braintree resident, said the company employs about 75 people and had $27 million in gross revenue last year.
What are the biggest sectors of your business?
Telecom is one. Supermarket, which is really a sub-sector of retail, but they consider themselves their own sector. We do a lot of supermarket work for Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Price Chopper, Big Y.
In the retail world, and restaurant world, we do a lot of work for Starbucks … different types of smaller restaurant chains, like the Five Guys Burgers and those type of things.
… And then two big ones for us – big in terms of importance – are health care and higher ed. We targeted those about two years ago to start to penetrate those sectors. It typically takes a couple of years for a new GC (general contractor) to penetrate a new sector, even in a normal economy, much less a down economy. But we finally got some traction.
We’re starting to build some relationships in both of those sectors, so over the next 24 to 36 months, we’ll start to build a portfolio in both of those sectors, and those are very important because they’re considered what’s called institutional sectors.
So they tend to be more stable. You’re dealing with hospitals and higher ed – colleges, universities, private schools. They’re well-capitalized. They have longterm plans. They’re not just looking at one little store.
They’re looking at maintaining a complex for 100 years. So there tends to be a good plan for repeat work, and they’re good sectors to be in.
What’s the hottest market for construction right now?
For us, we’re starting to definitely see more activity and traction across the board, in most of those sectors that I mentioned. So there’s another sector that’s fairly hot, and has been hot the last couple of years: multi-unit housing, which is really a byproduct of the economy. The whole condo market collapsed. There’s still a need for residential units.
People just don’t want to buy them, so multi-unit rentals (have) come back. So there’s a ton of work in that sector. We haven’t really gone after that sector. That’s a sector that we didn’t really have targeted on our business plan, but we’re starting to work towards getting into that sector. We just bid our first job out inWatertown last week, which is a little less than a $2 million job.
What’s the construction market like on the South Shore?
The areas that seemed to be protected the most were the most affluent areas. Where there was money, the money people tended to keep the money. It’s the middle class who kind of took most of the brunt of this downturn. Throughout the South Shore, you have some affluent towns, and you have some blue-collar towns, and maybe some others. But I think the most insulated markets were always the ones that had the money.
Right now, I think across the board – I can’t speak residentially, because we don’t do a lot of residential – but commercially, I think you’re going to see activity in a lot of those towns where they have a good commercial base. You can look at Braintree – Braintree’s got a ton of work going on.
(There’s) a lot of work happening over at what was the old Sheraton, now the Hyatt (Place). They’re going to be repositioning that whole property, where they’re building out a small retail building.
Braintree’s had a good mix, with the South Shore Plaza constantly turning up new retail spaces. So that’s a town that’s got a strong commercial base, so I think that’s benefited that town. Canton isn’t too bad, because Canton’s got a good industrial mix.
Overall, though, I think every indication that I’ve seen is that the worst of the economy is behind us. There are still people talking about a doubledip – people much more intelligent than I am when it comes to (the economy). A lot of people are saying it won’t happen – maybe 10 to 15 percent of the people say it will happen.
But what we’re seeing is traction across the board, in every sector, which is a ton of optimism. We used to think the light at the end of the tunnel was a train, and now, at least, the light at the end of the tunnel is potential good times coming. We’ve definitely seen some recovery. We’re seeing a lot more bid activity in virtually every sector, which tells you that each of those sectors (is) starting to recover and benefit from the recovery.