CSM Group is a construction management firm with four offices spread throughout Michigan, Nebraska and Tennessee. As a huge CSM project in Kalamazoo, Michigan neared completion, we spoke with Director of Business Development and Marketing Lori Green and Divisional President Jim Feltch. In addition to construction management, the company also specializes in master planning, design/build, pre-construction services and facility assessments.
CSM was founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the early eighties within Bronson Methodist Hospital, now known as Bronson Healthcare Group. CSM started with projects for the hospital, and it was a great collaborative environment for construction management to develop.
According to Jim, it was not too long after that that the hospital decided to concentrate on its core competencies and therefore spin some of its ancillary services like the architecture and construction groups off on their own. “The collaboration between us and the architectural firm became Bronson Builders and Design. Once the two groups separated, that’s when CSM was formed,” says Jim.
Since then, CSM has maintained a thirty-three-year contract and a master services agreement with Bronson Healthcare Group. The company has been the preferred construction manager for the hospital ever since the beginning. “We are very happy and proud of that,” says Jim.
CSM builds for six market segments presently, with the largest being the food and beverage and healthcare areas. Because of the specialization, it only makes sense that its senior project managers have earned Certified Healthcare Constructor (CHC) credentials from the American Society for Healthcare Engineering. The company also caters to the commercial, education, industrial manufacturing and advanced technology markets, which includes pharmaceutical and medical equipment facilities.
As far as safety is concerned, the expectations and regulations of the industry are ever increasing whether CSM is working with the FDA or Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). “From an educational perspective, we had to ensure that we understand the codes and regulations that are issued. Kevin Kirk is our vice president of Environmental Health & Safety. He focuses on understanding the industry’s expectations and then carrying that information forward to each of our experienced project managers. Taking the value based safety model we have created at CSM and implementing our Behavior Based Safety model has made a huge impact on our projects. The intent is to make sure that not only are we safe in a general sense but also in an industry-specific format,” explains Jim.
It starts with education, and that leads into practice. CSM believes that safety is achieved from the top down. “Safety is not something we get to decide on. It is an absolute. We simply will not perform without a safe environment,” says Jim. He emphasizes that safety starts in the pre-planning stages of any project. “Safety is a pre-planned logistic as opposed to a reaction to the environment,” Jim notes.
One of the main challenges faced is in manpower. Construction and engineering programs at the higher education facilities have increased. However, the skilled trade labor force has continually fallen away. CSM has spent much time working with career centers and has looked at other opportunities to educate students on the benefits of the industry and work force, whether it be in high schools or through associate programs.
“The expectations have increased so dramatically that these are hard to keep up with. The flip side of that, from our perspective, is continuing to find more efficient ways to build, more efficient ways to collaborate and more efficient ways to execute our projects,” says Jim.
The National Association for Business Resources (NABR) annually awards West Michigan’s 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For™, and CSM has won it ten years running. Over the last three years, it also garnered the national award of the same name. Work culture is a huge component of CSM, and employee engagement is only second to safety.
“It’s tricky as you move into more of a national setting to keep that family-oriented feel to your company, but that is one thing that our owners have tried to do. It shows in the camaraderie of how our teams work,” explains Lori.
CSM has a unique way of staffing projects. Staff are cross-functionally trained, making them more flexible and able to be deployed where needed. A great deal of collaboration takes place to plan for this every two weeks at staffing meetings.
Lori cites emotional intelligence as a major factor in the growth of the company and says that the company rejects the idea of growth simply for growth’s sake. “We grow to create opportunities for the employees to have a positive and lasting impact on not only their lives but also of the clients and other people that we serve. Really, we have a flat organization that grows simply for positive impact for who we serve, and that includes our internal employees to create opportunities for their career mindset and career path.”
In line with the company philosophy that growth has to be achieved through logical and calculated means, is its project approval process. CSM stays true to its areas of expertise via a thirty-five question checklist that is performed on every potential project. The project must meet at least seventy percent of the checklist criteria before approval.
“You can grow and keep growing, but are you getting the right clients?” asks Lori. “We are very particular about the clients we work for, and part of that is the selection process. We interview them as much as they interview us. If we don’t have a good feeling, or we suspect that they are not going to treat our employees with respect and have the level of safety that we desire on projects, then we walk away.” CSM has walked away from some big projects that were not thought to be the right fit for its teams.
A project that was the right fit is the Bronson Healthy Living Campus project just recently completed for Kalamazoo Valley Community College. This is a combination of health-focused facilities for education, food sustainability and community health for the city and area. The project includes three major buildings and site rehabilitation.
The Kalamazoo Valley Culinary School, at 80,000 square feet, is the crown jewel of the project. The Kalamazoo Valley Food Innovation Center is focused on research and development as well as food safety, processing and education. “They have a very large greenhouse, so all the products are grown, researched and developed right there at the facility and on site,” says Jim.
The project also features the Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services building to assist those with substance abuse issues, mental illnesses and intellectual or developmental disabilities. The unique $40 million project was under construction close to two years from start to finish.
The site was thirteen acres of land, some of which was found to be contaminated and needed to be cleaned with the utmost care, which the company did. “This was a real opportunity to create something out of nothing,” says Jim.