Case Studies

Compass General Construction LLC.

Taking a New Direction

Compass General Construction LLC (Compass Construction) offers the advantages of a full-service general contractor and construction management firm all under one roof. The Washington-based company provides multiuse residential solutions to the city of Seattle and surrounding areas.

“I founded the company 15 years ago,” says Ken Coleman, president of Compass Construction. According to Coleman, the company’s name hails from the tool used to complete a successful journey. Like a navigation instrument, Compass Construction provides direction throughout the building process. Clearly, Coleman has steered the company in the right direction; Compass Construction has built approximately 2,800 residential units, representing about $400 million worth of work since its founding.

The company has seen hard times; at one point, the number of employees dwindled to just five. Today, Compass Construction has grown to over 98 individuals who are all hands-on, from executives to laborers.

“Everyone, including myself, participates in the work,” reveals Coleman. “We’re unique in the fact that we don’t have a lot of corporate structure or overhead that burdens us.” Although Compass Construction subcontracts most aspects of projects, the staff is always on-site, ready and willing to get their hands dirty.

Part of getting the job done right is making sure it is carefully thought through and well planned. “We also offer extensive preconstruction services, complete with cost studies, performance calculations, value engineering and constructability analysis from an early-on standpoint,” shares Coleman. “We’re a strong believer in being fully integrated from the start of a project.”

Seattle’s Building Boom

Compass Construction has seen over 15 years of success thanks to strong development in its home city. The company has found itself right in the hotbed of the mixed-use building boom in Seattle.

“Unlike other West Coast cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, Seattle had the capacity for growth,” explains Coleman. “Thanks to companies like Amazon and Google coming to the area, there’s an influx of young adults coming to live and work in the city.”

Growing up in Seattle, Coleman stated his fellow city natives had an anti-density mindset. “At first, development was viewed as a bad thing,” he admits. “It took a while for the city to figure out planned density is a good way to maximize infrastructure. Whether we planned for it or not, it was going to happen.”

Before the building boom, Coleman feared for the worst, and almost had to shut the business down. “The recession hit hard in 2010,” he recalls. “I was forced to lay off so many employees that we were down to just five full-timers.”

After the 2010 recession, things finally started to turn around, and Coleman reports that things have been improving since. “In my whole career, I’ve never seen it like this,” shares Coleman. “Within the last year-and-a-half, the market has gone nuts, which is completely opposite from how things were in 2010. General contractors that build mixed-use projects are busier than we have ever been.” With the recent upturn in the local economy, Coleman was happy to bring back the employees he was forced to lay off in 2010.

Projecting Growth for 2013 and Beyond

Compass Construction is busy building apartment complexes to support Seattle’s increasing young population. In one Seattle neighborhood, the company has four projects lined up within a five-block radius. Some of the company’s current endeavors also include projects in neighboring communities such as Redmond and Kirkland, Wash.

“The majority of our work consists of wood frame construction over a concrete podium for retail and underground parking. Coleman explains. In addition, many of Compass Construction’s projects are green, including solar panels and a parking garage-based heat-capturing system.

Another job that is in the works for Compass Construction is still in the early demolition phases. “We’re hanging onto existing façades incorporating them into the new building construction,” explains Coleman. “It’s become an interesting challenge, because these buildings usually include underground garages. Since the city is offering developers incentives to save historic facades, this design approach is becoming more typical.”

Coordinating so many jobs amongst the hustle and bustle of downtown requires a trusted team of subcontractors; Compass Construction has just that. “It’s absolutely critical for us to maintain relationships with our subcontractors,” stresses Coleman. “Our design-build work requires smart, efficient people who can take care of business. With the amount of work that’s going on lately we need stable go-to people. I consider our subcontractors just as much a part of our team as my employees.”

Between an ideal location for products and recent improvements in technology, Coleman is confident Compass Construction will continue on the path toward growth through 2013 and beyond. “Being in the northwest allows us accessibility to all kinds of specialty wood framing products,” details Coleman. “Our location makes these products affordable and new developments in waterproofing and noise mitigation details have made them more reliable. The price point we offer attracts owners and developers. Between that and the growth in Seattle, business really is booming.” Compass General Construction LLC continues on the course of success, directing projects with full client-oriented involvement and investment.

Published on: May 15, 2013


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