A Breadth of Experience

Cork-Howard Construction

Cork-Howard is a commercial general contractor headquartered in Marietta, Georgia with an additional office in Tampa, Florida. This multifaceted, award-winning company provides quality interior and exterior construction, renovation and expansion as well as building from the ground up.

Cork-Howard was founded in 1995, beginning primarily as an interiors contractor but has since branched out in its operations. The company emphasizes professionalism, attention to detail and an adherence to scheduling which keeps clients coming back. Cork-Howard possesses a diverse breadth of expertise, and specializes in offering its services to varied clients in sectors such as hospitality, data centre construction, healthcare facilities, corporate headquarters and not for profit facilities.

Architecturally, the company’s award winning projects vary greatly and demonstrate the diversity of work for which the company is known. From contemporary and traditional office spaces to health care spaces like operating rooms to hospices made to have a warm, welcoming, atmosphere, Cork-Howard does it all.

And impressive seventy percent of the company’s work comes from repeat business. Vice President Rusty Ragsdale explains, “That’s one thing we try to do, is be very efficient and hands-on as well as service oriented for our existing clients. That way they will want to come back and work with us again.”

Expansion was inevitable for this company until the global economic crisis took its toll on the entire industry. The Atlanta market has not recovered as quickly as other areas, which is impacting all contractors who work in the region. Before 2008, Cork-Howard was seeing $60 million per year in revenues and presently is seeing in the $30 million range. Although it is a smaller company now, it is recovering well out of the GFC.

Of course, competition is fierce within the industry and the economy has only added to the challenge. “It’s very competitive here in the Atlanta market,” says Mr. Ragsdale. “So many general contractors are now competing for such a small amount of work.” To adapt, the company has reduced its personnel somewhat and, until the market grows back to pre-2008 levels, it is subcontracting out work like drywall installation. It makes good business sense as it eliminates the need to carry that payroll, leaving the company free to concentrate on total project management.

In 2013, Cork-Howard was the proud recipient of several Associated General Contractors Build Georgia awards, “one of which was for the Sub Zero and Wolf showroom in Atlanta which was an interior set up of Sub Zero kitchen equipment,” shares Mr. Ragsdale. “We also won a merit award for the Tranquility Hospice at Kennesaw Mountain which is basically a twenty-four bed hospice ‘ground up’ construction project.”

The company is in direct competition with all general contractors within the association. It submits projects for the Build Georgia Awards and has been prominent in garnering awards since 2005. The Association of General Contractors is a fairly large organization within the state of Georgia and it is not easy to receive awards with so many participants. Cork-Howard is consistently a front-runner and time and again proves itself as a major player within the industry.

Cork-Howard is a flat organization, with the belief that management should be on site and involved with clients during any given project. “We like to maintain a hands-on approach to just about all of our projects,” says Mr. Ragsdale. For larger projects, such as its work on the WellStar Cobb Hospital, “we want everyone from the president on down involved.”

Indeed, the WellStar Cobb Hospital represents one of the biggest jobs ever undertaken by the company. This project took a full year to complete and cost approximately $20 million, expanding the hospital’s number of operating rooms by six. Included in this project were a central energy plant and the remodelling of the entire front entrance of the hospital. The operating rooms presented particular complexities; not only was critical and highly specialized equipment being installed, but the work had to be done around an active operating schedule. Cork-Howard received a Merit Award through the Associated General Contractors, Georgia Branch for the hospital lobby and front entrance.

Cork-Howard Construction has completed numerous projects for GE Power / GE Energy since its relocation to Atlanta and currently the firm is involved with on-campus work for the multinational organization. Cork-Howard has also recently completed projects for Chubb Insurance and for Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm.

The company, which is licensed to work in Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, has also been involved in data centre construction, doing some high end interior work for major corporations in the south-eastern United States.

Cork-Howard has even delved into church remodelling. Mr. Ragsdale emphasizes that the work itself can be rather simple or extremely complicated but in any case working in a community-oriented space is always interesting. Mass and church functions cannot be disturbed and construction must be carried out around the church’s own programming.

For the kind of ground up construction that takes place on some projects, the site preparation work can prove to be the biggest challenge. “For example, the Tranquillity hospice (Tranquility at Kennesaw Mountain, one of two inpatient hospice facilities offered by WellStar) project. The site is backed up to the Kennesaw Mountain Valley battlefield and is in between two residential projects. A significant amount of stone and rock had to be blasted out in order to provide the underground retention system for storm water. We had to monitor all the adjacent properties to make sure that we didn’t have any issues there.”

Other construction issues include weather, as rain and cold in the winter months can cause delays to construction and, particularly with health care projects, the company must be very conscious of hazardous materials, air quality, and infectious disease control. To be able to successfully tackle jobs in the healthcare field, Cork-Howard maintains a specialized team who comes in for the various stages of construction. This ability to have the right people on site at any given time has proven to be a definite asset.

The company treats its staff members with the same level of respect with which it treats clients, and that is a major reason for its success on job sites. With a stellar record, safety remains, “one of our primary emphases, especially through the AGC (Associated General Contractors of America),” explains Mr. Ragsdale. “We are very proud of our safety record and our EMR (the Experience Modification Rate is a number used by insurance companies to evaluate the risk of injury and calculate insurance premiums). We have a full service person on site that evaluated our safety program. She is a licensed OSHA instructor, so we put a great deal of effort on making sure that we are compliant. Each of our job sites are safe, and we conduct weekly safety meetings as well.”The EMR for Cork-Howard is less than one – lower (better) than the industry average – and its diligent commitment to safety means it generally has very few issues when it comes to accidents.

The company strives to be seen as an expert in both small and large projects and markets the firm accordingly. It is very hard to break into the healthcare industry, and while Cork-Howard may have a good record with the WellStar Health System – a well known not-for-profit comprehensive health care group in Atlanta – other organizations such as DeKalb Medical Center and Grady Hospital will make it start from the ground up. For Cork-Howard to get its business, it had to start with a smaller job in order to prove its value. That may seem like a waste of time to some construction firms, but to Cork-Howard this presents golden opportunity. “No job is too small or big for us.”

The goals of the company are to deliver quality projects; earn business from repeat customers; deliver quality service; and develop loyalty. Many similar companies have struggled since the recent financial crisis, but Cork-Howard continues to hit its stride. A good business plan will take you where you want to go, and Cork-Howard is certainly in the driver’s seat with a clear direction in mind.