Fayetteville’s C.R. Crawford Construction Co. does business across all of Arkansas, but its home region of Northwest Arkansas represents the firm’s bread and butter. And the numerous C.R. Crawford signs on job sites throughout the region are testament to the area’s continued growth.
Recent notable projects include the Simmons Food facility in Gentry, the Highlands Oncology Group headquarters and treatment center in Springdale, Everest Rehabilitation Hospital in Rogers and in Central Arkansas, Everett Ford. Plus, the firm is working on The Marshall, an apartment/condo complex for University of Arkansas students in Fayetteville, which is set to open next summer.
C.R. Crawford’s John Teeter believes the key to success is simple — stay on time, under budget and put the clients’ needs first. As vice president of project management for the past four years, he has logged extensive experience on more than 175 jobs representing multiple industries. His favorite project? Any that offers a challenge.
Teeter slowed down long enough to talk with AMP about some of those specific challenges, the continued growth of Northwest Arkansas and how foresight helped the company stay ahead of the pandemic.
AMP: Your firm has been involved with some big projects. Take us behind the scenes on some of the more notable ones.
Teeter: Every project is a big project to us; they are all unique and treated with equal importance. But, I agree, the projects that are large in terms of magnitude and scope are impressive and certainly stand out. The Simmons Foods processing facility that we completed in Gentry is a good example of a high-profile project. It was a $155 million project, about 420,000 square feet, and we completed it in 18 months. We used an integrated project delivery method, which allowed us to be fast-tracked and maintain a high level of quality. It was one of the largest commercial projects under construction in the state during this time period.
Earlier this year, we completed a five-story hospital and treatment center in Springdale for Highlands Oncology Group. This was another great project and very noticeable because of its proximity to Interstate 49. As Northwest Arkansas grows, the need for medical facilities increases and HOG is doing an impressive job at serving the current health care needs in our area and staying ahead of the population growth. In addition, Mercy, Washington Regional Medical Center and Everest Rehabilitation Hospital are other medical clients we have recently worked with to complete new buildings.
We are currently in the process of building The Marshall — a seven-story, approximately 302,000-square-foot, privately owned, student-housing building. It’s a significant addition to that area of Fayetteville and will help meet the housing needs for the area’s increasing demand. From a construction standpoint, the structural system is a really unique aspect of it. It’s a hybrid of prefabricated load-bearing walls and structural steel that allows us to build significantly faster than a conventional steel or concrete building process.
With this system, we were able to overlap design and fabrication phases, so it really compresses the time from when it’s designed to when it’s actually complete. The project owners had used this system in two different markets previously. When looking to build in Northwest Arkansas, they approached us to implement it. The proprietary system was essential to achieve the target completion date of summer 2021. The Marshall is the first project in Arkansas to use this specific system.
We also have the high-profile City U project in Bentonville just underway. This is a multifamily housing project that will include 375 units in 26 buildings of various sizes from two to five stories. The project will cover a four-block area in the city’s downtown Market District. Modus Studio and DIGSAU are the architects on this project. This project site won a regional design competition. Needless to say, we are excited to be the construction manager for this project and bring great design to life.
AMP: What are some specific challenges you face today on the job?
Teeter: The primary challenge we face — and this is the industry as a whole — is maintaining adequate manpower that is skilled enough to complete tasks at the quality we require. There is so much more demand than there is available skilled labor, regardless of specific trade or type of construction. And I think the challenge is more prominent in this region because of how quickly Northwest Arkansas is growing and the area’s great need for construction.
A benefit our area has going for it, though, is that it’s known as a place to come to find work. Surrounding markets have slowed down recently. But Northwest Arkansas is known as a place with a lot of activity. Fortunately, C.R. Crawford has excellent relationships with subcontractors in all of the markets we work in, so we’ve been able to keep projects moving and stay on schedule.
The construction industry as a whole has a lot of challenges — material shortages, cost fluctuations, weather — and if a company doesn’t effectively plan for these challenges, it won’t make it. I think we do a really great job at forecasting, planning, and scheduling, and it shows.
AMP: NWA just seems to keep growing. Can the infrastructure keep up?
Teeter: In my opinion, it has so far, just talking infrastructure, Interstate 49 and other improvements around the area. It was an inconvenience when I-49 was under construction, but it’s serving Northwest Arkansas well now. Utility infrastructure is always ongoing. In general, I think the area has done a pretty good job of keeping up with projected growth.
One thing I’m noticing is that the growth in the area is attracting all kinds of people — from skilled labor to white-collar jobs. Northwest Arkansas has become an attraction. And while people aren’t infrastructure, I think city leaders are doing a pretty good job at bringing in new businesses and keeping up with employment opportunities for people who come to the area. I think all four cities and surrounding areas seem to be doing a good job trying to keep up and manage the growth.
AMP: How has the pandemic impacted business?
Teeter: It’s definitely had an impact, from keeping employees safe to avoiding delays on job sites and more. I enjoy a good challenge but, as a nation, I don’t think this experience has been much fun for any of us — just something we all had to tackle together.
In January and February, before the coronavirus had really impacted the United States and before there were shutdowns, we were looking at it from the standpoint of, “What is this going to mean to us?” We started looking at securing materials that we might need later in the year, securing items just in case. In terms of material procurement, we got ahead of that supply chain delay, so that hasn’t really been a major impact for us.
It was nice that construction in Arkansas was deemed essential business. There were just so many unknowns, and we were all learning as we went, trying to keep workers safe and still make forward progress on job sites.
It did not take long for us to invest in the necessary equipment and material to keep our job sites protected from the virus. Select employees were trained on proper procedures for disinfecting an area, so now we are equipped to take care of it ourselves. This allows us to disinfect proactively, and we periodically disinfect the main office and job sites. Large sites are disinfected every other day. This way, if there is a positive case, we know the site has been disinfected, and we don’t have to stop work. Being able to do this in-house has allowed us to continue to work and not have to hire a third party and wait for them to come in.
We’ve tried to look at it this whole situation with a common-sense approach. We could have overreacted and shut down projects. We could have gone overboard on limiting the number of people on a task — the job might take six people, but you’re limiting it to two. We took the best information we had and did what we thought was best and safest for the people doing the work.