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Florida Skanska Executive Talks Tampa Bay Construction And Need For Diversity

Skanska is involved in some of the largest development projects in Tampa Bay.

The global construction firm is currently working on the University of South Florida’s Research Park, the renovation of the Tampa Convention Center and Imagine Clearwater. It’s also had a hand in the St. Petersburg Pier, Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and the expansion of Tampa International Airport’s main terminal.

Michael C. Brown, executive vice president and Florida general manager for Skanska, joined the firm in 2017 and manages local construction projects. He’s also responsible for building up the construction company’s talent amid a labor shortage.

In this conversation with the Tampa Bay Times, Brown discusses what’s affecting local construction projects and the need for more diversity in development.

Tampa Bay is changing quickly. What are some challenges in the construction industry of trying to meet the moment?

I’ve not seen in my extensive career a market this active. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity. There’s certainly no lack of ability to grow your business. I think it’s important right now that we’re thoughtful about what we do and how we do it. And we meet the moment strategically. We try to stay true to what we do. We do large, complex projects, and that’s where we tend to focus on.

Do you have any concerns about how fast Tampa Bay is growing?

I do. Anytime you see rapid growth, there’s a potential for significant decline that immediately follows. We’re seeing the Federal Reserve Bank indicate that they’re going to be raising interest rates over the next year. I will tell you that’s going to have a bigger impact on the residential markets more than the commercial or institutional markets where we tend to focus. There’s obviously a concern that what goes up may come down and we really have to be thoughtful and strategic about that.

What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in the construction industry right now?

Escalation. I think it’s the same thing that we as consumers are feeling but inflation is definitely having an impact on our business. We’re able to predict it and manage it well. But with the prices going up, a lot of our owners are definitely feeling the impact. We have to be sensitive to that and look for creative strategies to do as much as possible.

What are some ways to combat inflation?

There’s this particular kind of roofing material called polyiso. We’re switching to a different kind of polymer material that had been used in the past. One of the things we’re seeing on the residential side is because the cost of labor has gone up precipitously, we’re seeing different kinds of building materials come into play. There’s a lot more prefabrication, especially using precast as opposed to cast in place of concrete, without getting overly technical. So we’re seeing different materials being used that maybe in the past had not been cost effective, but now they are.

How is the labor shortage affecting a push to create a more diverse workforce?

Maintaining a diverse workforce is hard. It is difficult, but it’s no more or less difficult than it’s always been. When you look at the labor shortage, that applies to all folks. So diversity of the workforce continues to be a challenge just as it has been. It’s part of our core values so that hasn’t changed and the labor shortage hasn’t necessarily affected that in a disproportionate way.

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What are the struggles in construction to make sure all voices are heard?

Construction is a little more old fashioned than maybe some other industries. We’re working hard to become a more progressive industry. You can talk to a lot of folks who are in charge in large construction companies and very few would look like me. And that’s reflective of Skanska. There is a commitment to making sure that the best people have the opportunity, regardless of your race, creed, color or orientation. I think some firms are more progressive than others.

Why is there a need for more inclusivity in construction now?

It’s about having a better business at the end of the day. You get the best ideas when you listen to everyone. It’s really about improving our business as much as it is including others who have been historically excluded. So we see it as not only good for our society, but frankly good for business.

How can Tampa Bay include more diverse voices in the development process?

It starts with with empathy. And really what that is, is being able to step into somebody else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective. And that’s what we must begin with. You don’t know on any given day what someone’s going through and the challenges that they’re facing. If we can step beyond ourselves for a minute, and see things from the perspective of others, maybe we can learn to to be a little bit more inclusive. Maybe we can learn to be a little more patient and understanding and it’ll make the Tampa Bay community a better place.

I know that’s not a specific answer that we need to do this in development, and that in construction or that in design, but I would tell you it begins with that stepping beyond ourselves and trying to look at them from the perspective of others, and see what kind of positive impact we can have on those around us.

What are some local projects that excite you most?

There’s so many. We just released a report regarding the Tampa Bay Rays stadium. A potential new baseball stadium in the region would be fantastic. We are really excited about our work with USF and the research building. But there are two projects that are actually both within about 100 yards of our office. We’re doing the Tampa Convention Center, which is going to just help revitalize and really create a new presence for the convention center that’s already in a rapidly growing and exciting downtown. But there’s also the Tampa Museum of Art.

Those two projects are going to help shape the face of Tampa Bay. And what I mean by that is most cities are defined by their skyline. Tampa is defined by its waterfront. So these projects that run along the Hillsborough River are going to make a wonderful impact on the community.

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