Live Oak Contracting specializes in multifamily and commercial construction. Rooted in strong values, the company has grown tremendously in recent years. Live Oak is based in Jacksonville, Florida, with projects throughout the eastern US. We spoke with Paul Bertozzi, Founder of Live Oak Contracting, and Katherine Ruttell, Director of Marketing and Business Development, to learn what makes the company so successful.
Live Oak Contracting is a third party general contractor specializing in multifamily and commercial projects. The company was founded in 2014, but its roots run much deeper. Prior to establishing Live Oak, founder Paul Bertozzi worked in a large contracting firm for 10 years, building relationships with clients who were eager to continue working with Bertozzi in his new venture. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, Live Oak has worked on numerous projects in Florida and throughout the southeastern US, as well as in New England.
Within the multifamily sector, Live Oak offers both new construction and renovation and rehab projects. Its projects include all kinds of multifamily buildings, ranging from luxury apartments to student housing. “We currently have about 1,200 units under construction right now,” Bertozzi notes.
Live Oak also provides commercial construction and tenant improvement services. The company is currently working on a new office warehouse facility as well as two tenant improvement projects in the Northeast Florida market.
Live Oak provides unmatched flexibility for its tenant improvement project clients, working around their schedules to ensure that work is completed on time without disrupting the client’s business. The company recently completed a renovation project on a local church, working to ensure that the sanctuary was ready to use for services while still completing the project on time. This flexibility is part of Live Oak’s commitment to being a partner with its clients and meeting all of the project requirements.
An outstanding example of the company’s renovation capabilities is its first project, the Vaughn Motorgroup showroom in Jacksonville. Once a dilapidated warehouse, Live Oak led the process of transforming the building into a luxury dealership; the company’s construction management role included coordinating and consulting with engineers, architects, permitting, and managing the entire project. “It was a lot of effort, trying to tie the new design to the old existing structure, but the project turned out beautifully. It’s one of our signature projects, and we’re very proud of it,” says Bertozzi.
Live Oak takes a collaborative approach to its projects, partnering with all key stakeholders including developers, architects, and designers. By engaging early in the planning stages of its projects, Live Oak helps to guide the budgeting and design processes in order to help clients maximize their resources. “We can offer constructability guidance to our design partners and help influence the decision making process on the best means for constructing the building,” says Bertozzi.
The firm’s clients see the value of this collaborative approach, and many have formed long-term partnerships with Live Oak. “90 percent of our clients are repeat clients,” Bertozzi notes.
At the heart of Live Oak’s success are its strong values. “We treat people with respect which develops a culture of trust,” says Katherine Ruttell. As a result, each employee is deeply invested in the success of the company and its clients.
Teamwork is a hallmark of the company’s culture, defining every aspect of the contracting process. “We don’t think of it in terms of the client versus us. It’s one team moving forward together,” Bertozzi explains. “We’re focused on ensuring that everyone benefits from the process, from the developer, to the architect and design team.”
Accountability is another value the company upholds. “If something isn’t right or needs to be fixed, I’ll be the first to take responsibility,” says Bertozzi. Live Oak is committed to problem solving and creating solutions to any issues clients face. Above all, the firm prides itself on integrity and always doing the right thing for its clients. “We always want to deliver the best product, so that everyone walks away at the end and says, ‘This really went well.’”
Of course, some challenges will always be present in this dynamic industry. Live Oak, like many other companies in the construction sector, saw its labor force shrink during the economic recession. Live Oak is addressing this challenge through its network of subcontractor partners, who provide skilled workers to meet the needs of each job.
The Great Recession also caused a sharp decline in the number of professional project managers, as young people working in the field left construction to pursue careers in other industries. This trend has left a void in the applicant pool for positions such as assistant superintendents, and will present even greater challenges in the future. “The younger talent that we’re looking for now is very limited. Our staff is very seasoned, and we’re looking for that younger talent to bring up. Many of the project managers and project superintendents we’re working with now have 20+ years of experience, and in the next 10 years they’ll be looking to retire,” Bertozzi explains. Live Oak is actively seeking younger talent in the construction management field.
Another change facing the construction industry is the financing of projects in the post-recession economy. The industry is experiencing a shift from funding by major institutional lenders to funding through smaller banks and private equity. Because smaller funders require more capital from the project owner, fewer projects are being initiated. “It’s part of the market cycle, and we don’t think it’s a bad thing… We’re not flooding the market; we’re developing responsibly. There are going to be good projects, with good development firms, that are still going to be built,” says Bertozzi. “I think it’s going to help to stabilize the market and continue the growth that we’re going to see over the next three to five years.”
Looking to the future, Live Oak is focused on steady, responsible growth. “Over the next five, ten, twenty years, we want to continue to build on our successful client relationships and let the company grow to meet their needs,” Bertozzi shares. “We don’t want to try to be everything to everyone. It’s important to grow responsibly, and not to take on every job. We don’t want to just take on work to grow the company, and then have to downsize when the work isn’t there.”
Guided by its collaborative approach and strong values, Live Oak is committed to its development partners in both the multifamily and commercial construction industries.