Corna Kokosing, a part of the Kokosing Group of Companies, the eighth-largest commercial builder in the Midwest, recently announced leadership changes, including a new president and a new CEO.
This summer, the Westerville, Ohio-based firm's board of directors named former executive vice president Jim Negron (pictured above) president and Lori M. Gillett CEO. The company’s first female CEO in its 63-year history, Gillett is the granddaughter of Kokosing founder Bill Burgett.
Negron and Gillett replace Mark Corna, who retired three years ago, and Josh Corna, who recently left to take an ownership role with another construction company. Here, Construction Dive talks with Negron about the challenges and opportunities the company faces and about his goal of cultivating strong relationships with customers, team members and the community.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What are the biggest challenges facing your company these days?
NEGRON: Similar to most firms in our industry, the demand for workforce at all levels is a major challenge. With the unprecedented growth in the Columbus, Ohio, region, the construction industry has benefited from new projects and the exciting transformation that is occurring.
However, our industry never fully rebounded from the workforce departure that took place during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Couple that with the aging tradesperson population and the focus away from vocational programs, a talent gap has been created that our industry and company are working hard to fill.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: How are you addressing those challenges?
NEGRON: We understand that we cannot fix the talent challenges with any sort of quick fix and that there are several factors at play. We have combated the issue on several fronts.
For the students getting set to begin their careers, we are working with local vocational schools, including Columbus City Schools’ Ft. Hayes Career Center, to identify the skills and training necessary for students to be successful in the industry upon graduation. Our in-house apprenticeship program is at the highest volume of participation in company history.
We also have identified key colleges and universities for recruiting. In addition to attending multiple career fairs throughout the year, our team members sit on several advisory boards and meet with career service representatives to address the skills necessary for professional staff.
We are also leveraging the attractiveness of the Columbus Region in our recruiting efforts for those already in the industry. In lieu of just recruiting individuals from other firms locally, we are recruiting people who may have called this area home before or are excited about what is happening here — from the job growth and nightlife to our family-friendly neighborhoods. There is a lot of interest in what is going on in Central Ohio and we are utilizing that to the highest potential.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: Do you see a slowdown on the horizon as many industry experts are predicting?
NEGRON: There has been a lot of talk of a slowdown and several of the predicted timelines have already passed. That said, we keep a pulse on several factors that could provide warning signs to a tightening construction market. We do feel some sort of market correction is likely in the next couple of years, but nothing compared to what we faced during the last recession.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: How will you prepare for one should it come?
NEGRON: Over the last several years we have been at historically high backlog levels. This had provided us the ability to methodically grow our talent. Our team is constantly looking at our book of work to ensure we remain balanced in what we pursue and acquire. A slowdown affects our various markets in different ways, so we are cautious to not overload on any one type of project or industry segment.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What role does construction technology play at your company?
NEGRON: The construction industry has always been slow to adapt technology and invest dollars into research and development. However, there is a lot of change on the technology front with the millennial generation growing their interest in the industry, the increased speed of project development and creating a safer project site.
At CK, we have a technology committee that is focused on identifying areas of our business that could benefit from existing innovations or if there are products we should develop ourselves. Since its inception this group has brought various innovations to our company including 5D software, virtual reality and 3D scanning technology, to name a few. They are not afraid to bring new ideas to the table and are currently looking at robotics and augmented reality to make us more efficient and increase our level of service to clients.