Case Studies

Alten Construction

Traditional Trades Lead to Continued Success

In 1995 Shannon and Bob Alten combined their education and experience in business and construction (respectively) to found Alten Construction Inc. Shannon, the company’s president, explains, “Bob has been hands-on since 16 years old, and always knew he wanted to be involved in construction. He studied engineering and architecture in college and worked in different trades before and while going to school. Upon graduation he got right into the industry; starting with an architectural firm, then working with a subcontracting firm and eventually he was general manager for a public works firm before launching our own company.

“We always envisioned starting our own company,” Shannon continues. “When the opportunity presented itself, we took the risk and away we went. I was a business major in college and after graduating worked for a large, nationwide computer company setting up internal systems and training, and after having my first child helped in the startup of a small computer consulting firm doing everything from marketing materials to training manuals to payroll. It was the perfect experience and training ground for starting a business.”

In-house Services

From its Richmond, Calif., location, Alten Construction works almost entirely coordinating the construction and renovation of public work projects. The company’s jobs are typically centered on modernizations, seismic upgrades, tenant improvements and new construction of educational and first response facilities. From this base Alten Construction generates $50 million to $65 million in annual revenue.

Looking back over the company’s 15-year history, Shannon attributes Alten Construction’s ability to remain highly competitive is greatly due to the fact the company’s workforce “performs a significant amount of the work.” The company has almost 100 employees, and through their skilled and established crews Alten Construction performs “demolition, smaller earthwork, concrete, framing and carpentry,” Shannon explains.

Alten Construction has developed a list of subcontractors with whom it prefers to work. “Strong, solid relationships with subcontractors are critical not only for the success while on a project but when bidding projects too. On bid day if a sub knows you and trusts you, they are more inclined to bid to you and in some cases even give you a little bit of a bid advantage to help ensure us being the successful low bidder,” Shannon informs.

“One thing that has changed is that more public entities are requiring you to be pre-qualified to bid on projects. In the last year, our bid administrator has completed more pre-bid qualification packages than in the prior 10 years combined. They evaluate you on a long list of criteria, including project size & type, insurance claims and law suits, staffing, bonding capacity and rates, workers comp rates, and financial strength; every little thing you can imagine.”

Alten Construction also has internship positions for office or field positions. This internship program guides professionals of the future toward specialties like contract administrator, field engineer, superintendent, estimator or project manager.

Maintaining Scope

In addition to stricter pre-bid requirements, Alten Construction has also seen an increase in competition. “Some commercial and residential contractors, and companies from out of state, are jumping into public works because there is always work there. We used to have half-a-dozen to maybe a dozen bidders, and now you can have 20 and even more on occasion,” Shannon reveals.

Despite some of these challenges, Shannon and Bob usually sleep relatively well at night. “We have seen and worked through some tough times over the last 15 years. It is very cyclical. At times you must reduce the profit margins a bit, but we feel it is unwise to “buy” a project. We strive to maintain a solid backlog so that we don’t have the ebb and flow of work, and we are always bidding so that we’re never “out of the game”. Public Works Construction is key to stimulating the economy as it affects so many other industries. It is rewarding yet very difficult work,” Shannon says.

As companies like Alten Construction remain strong, the economy is sure to recover. “I think that [the economic issues are] slowly lifting, but I don’t know that it will ever be what it once was. It is slow, but if people are patient, keep their heads down, stay focused and don’t give up, it will improve,” Shannon projects.

Alten Construction has certainly been doing its part to support the gradually rising economy through several recent projects. “We were contracted for three projects at the College of Marin. One was a PE center that is certified LEED Gold. It included a photovoltaic system that provides energy to heat the pool and a lot of the lighting. That was a complex, interesting and high profile project,” Shannon remembers. “In June we finished up another project for the College of Marin for the Transportation Technology Complex. It is an auto shop with state-of-the-art automotive repair equipment and paint booths.”

Alten Construction also occasionally works on historical buildings. For instance, the company converted a building at University of California, Berkeley. “At one time it was the frat house Dean Witter lived in when he went to the college, and now it’s an Archeology building,” says Shannon.

Alten Construction has the capabilities to expand services as necessary. But a defined work scope guides Alten Construction’s future plans to maintain its current position “We enjoy the Public Works arena and all of the diverse project opportunities, and our current staff and size position us well. We feel it can never be just the size or dollar amount of the project that is your goal, it’s a recipe of the type, size and location of the projects, and the caliber of all the people involved.

Thanks to returning opportunities, a loyal group of subcontractors and Alten Construction’s steady industry professionals, Shannon and Bob Alten’s construction company has the resources to continue to prosper for many years into the future. And, not only are the Altens satisfied with their work, but the State of California also benefits from the couple’s realized goals of efficient, comprehensive service managing the construction of structures that serve the public.

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Spring 2018



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