Building Houston

Humphries Construction
Written by Claire Suttles

Humphries Construction has 25 years of experience as a full service general contractor in the Houston area. This experience gives the mid-sized company a strong advantage over some of its larger competition…
“We have the resources, experience, knowledge, and sophistication to handle large, complex projects, yet we are small enough to make sure we have experienced senior managers involved in of all our projects,” says President Kenneth M. Humphries. “Each project is led by a manager who has 20 or 30 years experience.”

This experience draws clients who want reliable service and expert insight. “We look for clients who like the security of knowing they have senior level people involved in their project,” Mr. Humphries explains. “Rather than having a mission statement or catchphrase, we really push three things: we want to sell our clients on value, quality, and service. And we look for clients that value those things rather than the absolute lowest price.” No matter what, the team believes that the client comes first. “If we ensure that our clients’ projects are successful then our own success will follow.”

Humphries Construction acts as General Contractor, Construction Manager, or Design/Builder, depending on the client’s specific needs. The company builds in multiple sectors, including office, religious, education, industrial, and retail, as well as providing a range of exterior and interior remodels and renovations. The team also delivers tilt-wall projects, from four story office buildings to warehouses and distribution centers. “We try to have a presence in three or four segments where we think we can find the clients who appreciate what we do and appreciate our strategies for success,” Mr. Humphries explains.

The company’s varied portfolio includes a significant number of complicated projects. “We are able to deal with projects that might be tricky; we have a special projects niche. We get calls from people when there is a project that is tricky or has particular issues, technological or logistical or whatever it might be. They know we can handle that kind of project.” For example, the company recently constructed the Green Bank corporate headquarters on a reclaimed, infill site. “The building won a number of architectural awards and it was the first LEED Gold bank headquarters building in Houston,” Mr. Humphries remembers. Prominently located on a busy highway, the four story, 20,000 square foot building was “a high visibility project.”

Currently, Humphries Construction is finishing an 80,000 square foot, 3,500-seat sanctuary building for Lilly Grove MBC Church. “That is a pretty massive structure. It will be quite a landmark when it is completed.” A recent project for Iron Mountain Record Storage also stands out for its size; the pre-engineered 80,000 square foot structures have interior eaves that soar 65 feet to create the necessary storage space. For Forbidden Gardens, another recent project, the team transformed an 85-acre site into an entertainment destination with an outdoor museum highlighting the history and culture of ancient China. The work included the construction of landscape forms, lakes, bridges, and exhibition facilities.

State of the industry
“A lot of the economy in Houston is tied to the oil and gas business,” Mr. Humphries points out. “It really has a big effect on everything that is going on.” Savvy to the market’s ties to oil and the resultant cyclical effect, Humphries Construction manages to stay active in whatever segment is currently active. In recent years, Houston’s office, warehouse, medical, retail, and multifamily sectors have enjoyed strong growth, creating steady work for construction companies. “But that is changing right now. The office and multifamily [sectors] are decreasing pretty rapidly. It’s tied to the drop in oil. Recently almost every significant office project in Houston has been delayed or outright canceled. The multifamily segment was very strong because of the job growth, but right now the rate of job creation has slowed down tremendously so there is some pullback in the number of new multifamily jobs being started.”

Humphries Construction does not participate in the multifamily sector, but the company has always been active in the office sector. “We had several projects that were postponed or cancelled that were office projects,” Mr. Humphries says of the recent slowdown. “But there are lots of new opportunities that are more than replacing the lost opportunities in the office market.” The team has replaced many of the canceled office projects with self-storage jobs, a sector in which Humphries Construction has extensive experience. “We have been very fortunate that, in the past, we participated in a section of the market that has gotten very strong recently. We have been able to get back into it because we have a track record in it.” In addition, religious and nonprofit projects continue to boom. “We do a lot of work for churches,” Mr. Humphries shares. “That is a pretty steady source of business for us.”

Whatever the construction sector, Houston as a whole is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers to do the job. “When our markets are booming there just isn’t enough manpower.” As a past President and current board member of AGC (Associated General Contractors) Houston, Mr. Humphries has taken an active role in addressing this problem. “We’ve looked at how to recruit [workers].” But, he explains, simply getting people interested in the industry is not enough – there has to be a way to transition young people into actual jobs. “Other states have sponsored promotional activities to get kids into the trades, but the challenge is that you have to give them an entry point.” AGC Houston developed an innovative solution dubbed the Construction Career Collaborative (C3). “C3 can provide the employers and the training to actually make good on that opportunity,” Mr. Humphries explains. A collaboration between owners, contractors, and subcontractors, C3 aims to address the root of the workforce shortage by giving young people a path for a lasting career – not just a job.

In addition, AGC Houston provides direct support to member companies such as Humphries Construction, which maintains an active relationship with the association. “AGC Houston is one of the strongest and most active chapters in the country,” says Mr. Humphries. “They provide education and training for all levels of our personnel: senior management, operational management, and [people in the] field. That includes business strategy, risk management, plan reading – things that you want your young managers to be exposed to as well as safety and craft training in the field.”

Humphries Construction places a strong focus on safety, and AGC Houston helps support that commitment. “They have a safety manager to help you develop safety programs, conduct inspections for you and support you if you are involved with OSHA and need some backup with what you are doing.”

AGC Houston also provides key political support. “AGC Houston is the voice of our industry in Houston,” Mr. Humphries points out. “The Houston chapter also takes a big role in Texas state politics through our Texas Building Branch. They are our united voice for political action and lobbying at all levels of government. If you are a lone contractor you are a voice in the wilderness. As a group we have some impact.”

Looking ahead
Humphries Construction plans to continue building what they build best. This includes relationships as well as self-storage, office, religious, educational, industrial, and retail projects. “A very high percentage of our business comes from referrals and repeat clients,” Mr. Humphries explains. “So we will continue to work on building new relationships.”

The company is also going bigger and bolder. “Since Houston came out of the 2008 – 2012 recession, we made a conscious effort to step up our business development efforts to grow both the number and size of our projects.” These projects will be farther afield than they have been in the past. “For several years we have had a number of clients asking us to look at projects in other cities around Texas. We generally declined that request, but we have decided that we need to take advantage of those opportunities.”

The team has done some strategic hiring, positioning itself to move forward with this expansion. After a quarter of a century navigating the Houston market, the team has the experience and inside knowledge to successfully extend its footprint and continue its recent growth.



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