The world of construction follows the economic cycles of boom and bust. To weather the storms, a company must appeal to both clients and employees, and Concrete Frame Associates (CFA) does just that by ensuring a quality product and the safety of those it employs.
This cast-in-place specialist has grown significantly over the last nine years, and from its base in Aurora, Colorado it covers the concrete construction needs for the Rocky Mountain Region. We spoke with its President Shayne E. Yeisley.
Concrete Frame Associates (CFA) was founded in 1991 by Dave Morrill, who has since sold the company and retired. The company began by focusing on formwork for cast-in-place projects. The business steadily grew from 1991 to 2010 when it was purchased by Chicago-based Heico, which owns a diverse portfolio of companies worldwide. Prior to 2010, Shayne was working for another concrete company that is now a sister company to CFA, also owned by Heico.
The construction industry hit bottom in 2010 during the Great Recession but CFA quickly started climbing out of that hole in 2011. “The key for us was in being able to maintain our core personnel in the office and superintendents in the field. This allowed us to grow significantly once the market came back. We had kept the main leadership resources in place and just had to build crews around those leaders,” says Shayne.
Maintaining that solid core of people was the catalyst for 400 percent growth between 2010 and 2018. A healthy return of the construction market aided by a growing population in Denver and the surrounding areas also helped the cause. Colorado is still one of the fastest growing states in the U.S. and is currently in the top ten for population growth rate. This generates opportunity, and CFA is in a good position to take advantage of this.
Another key component of success for CFA is in the fact that it owns all its formwork systems. It was able to put those to work without having to go out and rent in a market that was somewhat inflated due to a shortage of equipment. CFA also increased the range of its services during that same time.
“CFA really started out as a provider of formwork-only services, from foundation forming up to full-scope formwork. Over the years, CFA developed the people, expertise, and best practices to manage the entire concrete frame, giving our clients the option of buying a limited-formwork scope or a full Division 3 concrete frame,” says Shayne.
Division 3 is the construction division that covers concrete construction, including the forming of structural elements like columns, walls, or elevated slabs. CFA self-performs the formwork and reinforcing and manages the pumping, placing, and finishing of concrete, producing the entire skeleton of the building.
Through much hard work, CFA has become a regional leader in cast-in-place concrete construction. This locally run firm is the only sizable concrete construction company that calls Colorado home, and it continues to be one with which all the local general contractors want to work.
CFA also boasts a leadership studio that gives the tools and skills to employees who want to be leaders. “Our biggest asset is our people and their individual skill sets. We perform an in-house training program called ‘The Academy,’ and people are sent through that to gain additional skills to help with particular positions,” says Shayne.
With the growth the company is experiencing, this creates some great opportunities for those who want to take on a leadership role. This is especially relevant to the company’s strategy of continued growth.
The next step to continued expansion is to add more capabilities. When CFA built its frames in the recent past it needed to subcontract out for skillsets it did not possess. Now it develops those skills in its own employees and will continue to do so moving forward. This “self-perform” business plan will enable CFA to become more competitive.
Few young people dream of working in construction when they graduate from high school, so CFA, through the local AGC Chapter, has been working with some of the local high schools to show students the great opportunities available in the construction industry. Faced with the challenge of a declining workforce, the goal is to promote a career in construction and the benefits of working for a construction company like CFA.
Colorado has a significant Hispanic population that makes up about seventy percent of the company’s workforce. Some are bilingual and some are not, and CFA continues to develop and promote bilingual superintendents. Much of the training employees receive is done in both English and Spanish with interpreters used as needed.
As is the case in the construction field, the work has potential dangers. CFA wants to ensure its people are going to work and returning home in the same physical condition at the end of the day.
“We are in a dangerous industry, and the hazards in concrete construction are many. We must install formwork and then remove it, or ‘strip’ it, daily. Most other trades install their product and are done; we must both install our product and then remove it once the concrete has achieved the desired strength. We deal with double exposure, so giving our crews the proper training, tools, and equipment is extremely important to keeping them safe,” says Shayne.
CFA works diligently to increase overall awareness of the hazards. Job site conditions can change by the minute, but risks can be created or eliminated at the same time. CFA also rewards good behavior to promote safety. “That which is rewarded gets repeated, and that has a big impact. Guys like to hear about what they are doing right more often then what they are doing wrong,” says Shayne.
The approach has led to a series of safety awards, which are generally given on a project-by-project basis. The lead contractor will recognize a subcontractor such as CFA that has performed exceptionally on projects, and the firm has also been recognized by its local Associated General Contractors (AGC) chapter. “We have won multiple awards from different general contractors. Last year, we won a local AGC safety award for our performance in 2017 and 2018,” says Shayne.
CFA recently applied for the 2019 Construction Safety Excellence Awards (CSEA) through the national AGC with a fifty-four page application which included three essays that described the company’s philosophy on safety, detailed efforts to keep workers safe, and the general safety culture. The process started in October 2018 with the compilation of all the company’s safety data. An interview occurred in April of 2019, and the next day, CFA received the first-place award for national AGC safety excellence in the 350,000 to 750,000 man-hour category.
Suppliers and vendors are a crucial aspect of what CFA does since an average year would involve the purchase of 60,000 yards of concrete and 5,000 to 6,000 tons of rebar. “We partner with the best suppliers in the industry to ensure we continue to produce a high quality project that meets or beats every schedule. These partners have been a big part of our success over our 28-year history,” says Shayne.
A large project that is currently underway for CFA is the Rockies West Lot project owned by the Colorado Rockies major league baseball team. The project is located across the street from the stadium, on a 100,000-square-foot space that will include three towers: a residential tower, hotel tower, and office tower. CFA is partnering with the General Contractor to help construct two of the three towers on the project now called McGregor Square.
CFA had nearly one hundred employees working on the site at its peak of production. CFA did all the concrete work for the podium structure which entailed underground parking garage work and bringing the structure up to grade. Structural concrete work is expected to be completed by March of 2020.
A long-term goal is to continue company growth, even if it is outside of the state. While the focus is on Colorado, growth in other areas is desired. The company is currently undertaking work in New Mexico and Wyoming, but the Utah market is also a possibility.
“We have great relationships with local customers that also do work outside of Colorado. We would be willing to follow them and prefer to go into a new market with someone we have an established relationship with and already do work for,” says Shayne.
What makes CFA successful? The company is committed “to do what you say you are going to do,” in Shayne’s words, and that has been its cornerstone saying since the beginning. When the company commits to a schedule, it will do whatever is necessary to meet it, and this is what generates repeat business and growth.
The company also provides extensive preconstruction services. It regularly meets with engineers, architects, and general contractors, as well as owners and developers, to assist with the early stages of their projects. These services include helping with structural system selection, providing preliminary scheduling assistance and budget pricing. It is important to CFA to get involved in jobs early and develop a rapport with an owner or general contractor.
“It potentially gives us an advantage when the job comes out to bid,” says Shayne.