Over the next several years, the Houston office of Gilbane Building Co. will be constructing one of the most high-profile real estate projects ever to be developed in this area: the Exxon Mobil campus in north Harris County.
Providence, R.I.-basedGilbane was one of two construction companies chosen to create the complex on 385 acres near Interstate 45 and the Hardy Toll Road. Houston-based Harvey was also chosen, and the two companies will serve as equal partners.
Gilbane's 225-person Houston office is the company's Southwestern region headquarters, which is 30 years old this year. It is also one of the firm's most profitable offices.
The Chronicle's Nancy Sarnoff spoke with the Southwestern region vice president, Daniel Gilbane, about the company, the Exxon Mobil job and the industry.
Q: What does the Exxon Mobil project mean to your company?
A: The Exxon project is just a realization of a long-term relationship. Going back to the late '70s, my grandfather was the principal in charge of Mobil's headquarters pro-ject in Fairfax. Va. We did the Exxon Mobil research facilities in the mid-'80s in New Jersey. We've been working for Exxon Mobil here for at least 10 years. We have several Gilbane employees within the Exxon Mobil organization, some of whom have been embedded there for 10 years. The campus will be a tremendous opportunity. … We have 2,600 employees nationally, 40 Gilbane offices, and probably 20 more in subsidiary organizations, and we're bringing the best of the best down here to work on this project.
Q: How is the Houston construction market different from others?
A: The construction market in Houston is absolutely different than the rest of the market nationally. Within our organization, Houston and Washington, D.C., have probably held the firmest as good markets during the recession. In Washington, a lot of that growth, or stability, is based on the federal government. They're the largest tenant in town. In Texas, our economy has the fundamentals in terms of a business-friendly environment, job growth and population inflows that will lead to true economic growth as well as Houston's role as the energy capital of the world.
Q: How would you characterize construction demand?
A: The commercial marketplace in Houston remains very strong, in large part because of oil and gas companies' continued growth. The institutional marketplaces that we're very active in, K-12 schools, it's a challenge to pass a bond program. Same with city, county and statewide facilities. In Houston there's been a huge run in health care, which is another great institutional marketplace. Houston doesn't have a huge amount of federal work, but we're seeing federal work on bases, whether they're in San Antonio or El Paso. A lot of that is fueled by base realignment. Overall, we'd say the Houston market is very strong, but that's because we're set up to take advantage of both ends of the spectrum.
Q:Are costs for building materials rising?
A: Materials seem to have moderated to a certain extent. A lot of the growth in China and overseas was driving commodity prices for a long time. While they're not significantly down, they're at least stable.
Q: How will the partnership with Harvey work?
A: The work will be per-formed in our minds as a true team. Our hope is you'll be able to walk on the job site and won't know who's from Gilbane and who's from Harvey. Our hope is to manage it as a 50-50 split. It'll be an integrated team.
Q: How many people will you bring in from other markets?
A: We've brought in a lot of folks from across the country that are market leaders in commercial construction. It's not all for the Exxon Mobil project, but I believe in the last 12 months, 37 have come from other markets. Our head count here will be significantly up this year — on the order of 10 percent.
Q: Will you be hiring for the Exxon Mobil job?
A: There will be new hires across the board. Not just for the Exxon job.