The 50 States of Construction: How a sense of community drives the PA market
Angelo Perryman, president and CEO of Philadelphia–based Perryman Building and Construction, explains how firms can thrive in an area that 'always has capacity to grow.'
Editor's note: This article is part of Construction Dive's 50 States of Construction series, in which we talk with industry leaders across the U.S. about the business conditions in their market.
As its nickname suggests, Philadelphia "prides itself on being a city of neighborhoods," according to Angelo Perryman, president and CEO of Philadelphia–based Perryman Building and Construction. That sense of community defines the construction industry in the City of Brotherly Love as demand there continues to grow.
The construction management firm, which was founded in 1961 in Evergreen, AL, by Perryman's father, Jimmie Lee Perryman Sr., re-established in Philadelphia in 1998. Under Perryman, the firm has worked on such projects as the 2016 Democratic National Convention Stage and Lincoln Financial Field, home to the Philadelphia Eagles. Throughout the past 10 years and 1,000 projects — primarily in the mid-Atlantic region — Perryman Building has adapted to the area and learned how to thrive in the city's distinct communities.
Construction Dive spoke with Perryman about the defining characteristics and biggest opportunities in the Philadelphia market.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed.
Why did you choose to re-establish your business in Philadelphia?
PERRYMAN: When I came to Philadelphia, I thought it was a place that was strong enough to carry the family business. My daughter is the vice president of administration, and my son is a superintendent. They kind of took two different routes, and the idea [is that] when my responsibilities transition, then it could transition to two people that could administer the whole company in the most current and innovative ways of operating a construction business.
How do the Philadelphia and, overall, Pennsylvania markets differ from other areas where you've worked?
PERRYMAN: The marketplace inter-depends upon itself, and that is much different from any other part of the country. In most other places, you have dispersed talent. When certain projects happen, a state would typically say, 'We have firms that can do that, and this is where they are, and they can relocate to the location of the project and then execute those projects to a certain expertise.' But Philadelphia depends pretty heavily upon its capability locally. Rarely do you see in our construction industry a firm with large-project understanding and capabilities come to Philadelphia and merge into the existing culture of doing work here. It’s not that they’re not successful, but they seem to not be able to do it long-term.
Why is that?
PERRYMAN: If you’re there already, you seem to understand all the networks to be successful long-term. You have to have a network of opportunities because it’s an expensive place to operate. You may be able to get the management component, and you can transfer that into Philadelphia, but you might struggle with getting the right talent of workforce or tradespeople, or you might struggle with legislative issues. All of those components go toward making a successful business in Philadelphia.
How would you describe overall demand in the market right now?
PERRYMAN: I would describe it as steady and strong. The big pushes right now are renovations. The residential space is exceeding expectations, and there are a few marquee large commercial projects. It’s pretty broad-based. The educational sector has always been a mainstay of Philadelphia.
How would you describe the labor situation in the area?
PERRYMAN: Philadelphia is doing pretty well on the labor side. It is utilizing its capacity of available talent. To a large degree, everybody’s conscious [of the situation]. If you’re an owner and are looking to start a project, you know when you need to start it so that labor shortages are not an issue.
What are some of the biggest opportunities in the market?
PERRYMAN: The city always has capacity to grow. One of your biggest advantages is you’re in a place that can turn an idea into action. Some places you might go and they have unlimited land, but nobody is interested in coming and taking advantage of the open spaces or generating business. In Philadelphia, people are willing to come in.
How else would you describe the construction community in the area?
PERRYMAN: It’s rare that you have people that are consistent builders, or one name that has several projects. You’re constantly adjusting to the area where you’re building, the community where you’re building and the nuances of doing so. When you’ve been around and have been a part of the different communities that have developed over the years, people get to know you and know how to communicate their needs and desires. We pride ourselves on being able to listen at how best to be a partner with the owner and the communities.
Do you expect construction growth in Philadelphia to continue in the foreseeable future?
PERRYMAN: Philadelphia is a very conservative city. We have built for close to six years now. At some point, you have to monitor your growth. The ability to expand exists, but the question makes you think, 'How much do we need to grow at this phase, and for what purposes?'
Are you concerned that the area is reaching the point of overbuilding?
PERRYMAN: Not yet. Philadelphia is a very old town. Many of the properties exceed 60 years old. The building boom or the building of more residential spaces in that mindset was a good thing because you’re now having to prepare your infrastructure as close to a modern state as possible. There are downsides to not upgrading your infrastructure, which is public safety.
Are there any other factors that set the market apart?
PERRYMAN: Philadelphia is in a place where it has decided it wants to demonstrate its position in the national economy. Whether that is energy production, whether that is modernization of transportation, whether that is the most up-to-date governmental processes or safety-based thinking. A part of the city’s interest in growing is also taking a look at how it grows safely.