Building with Skill, Ingenuity and Steely Resolve
SEA CON LLC puts the steel in buildings that last
For the folks at SEA CON LLC, “heavy metal” isn’t a music genre, it’s a construction specialty. Based in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, SEA CON focuses on erecting steel buildings for commercial and industrial businesses throughout the Northwest, and, for that matter, the United States.
“We build steel structures of all types and sizes, from immense manufacturing plants to small clinics and restaurants,” says Kris Azizeh, SEA CON’s Marketing and Project Development Manager.
“Our clients seek out steel because steel buildings are more flexible to design, more economical to construct and quicker to complete than traditional brick-and-mortar structures. And, they hold up well over long lifetimes.”
In the Puget Sound region, Sea Con has constructed steel buildings for businesses as diverse as the Terex Aerial Work Platforms manufacturing plant in North Bend, the Modern Aviation aircraft hangar at King County International Airport-Boeing Field and the FreeUp Storage facility in Black Diamond. Overall, it has built warehouses, exposition arenas, agricultural barns, self-storage facilities, big-box retail stores, medical clinics, dental offices and entire shopping centers and malls.
“We work in a broad range of capacities,” Kris says, “from general contractor and construction manager to steel erection subcontractor, whatever the job calls for. We can provide turnkey project development contracting or design-build contracting. We have a strong commercial development component, and we often help clients with site search, financing and business plan issues.”
SEA CON does both renovations and ground-up construction. “Obviously, we prefer ground-up general contracting projects,” he says. “It’s more business for us, and it gives us more control over the process, it’s faster and it’s more efficient. But about a fifth of our workload involves renovations, which often means adapting existing structures to meet the needs of new tenants.”
General contracting accounts for about 60% of SEA CON’s business. Another 20% involves subcontractor work supplying the steel and building the structures for other companies. SEA CON is currently licensed as a general contractor in Washington and Oregon, but its subcontracting jobs take its team all over the country.
And, Kris notes, SEA CON has developed a singular subspecialty in helping companies facing unplanned moves due to eminent domain property seizures. Its business relocation service accounts for about a fifth of its revenues.
“Our relocation clients are industrial and commercial businesses with heavy equipment and special needs at their new sites. More than 50% of businesses fail to survive such forced moves. The 150 companies we’ve helped over the past two decades have experienced a success rate of more than 90%.”
Modern Company, Deep Roots, Big Changes
SEA CON as a company was formed in 1975. That’s when it was spun off into its current organization from the long-gone Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company and its predecessor, Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company, whose operation dates back to 1898.
Today, its Issaquah headquarters serves as a base for some 35 managers, estimators, project engineers, field superintendents and business support staff. For most of its lifetime, SEA CON had been owned by a small group of primary shareholders. Over the past five years, those investors have been transferring ownership to a group of longstanding company managers—“junior partners,” as Kris describes them.
“The changeover,” Kris says, “is a recognition that SEA CON has established a firm footprint in the Northwest construction industry and is primed to enter a new phase as we seek to expand into more industry market segments.”
The advantage of steel building construction begins with the concept that it’s modular. As an authorized representative for three major steel manufacturers—Metallic Building Systems, Nucor and GEM Buildings—SEA CON has access to engineered systems that can be ordered, delivered and erected in far shorter timeframes than brick-and-mortar structures, Kris notes.
“Our manufacturers,” he says, “have many variations of roofing panels and exterior and interior walls available in a range of specifications, like single- or insulated-thicknesses, hidden or visible fasteners. They provide the columns and beams, joists, fasteners, pipes and tubes needed to make it all work.
“Ideally, in the construction process, we provide the whole package. We do the site prep, pour the slab, stick the columns, construct the framework, install the roof and wall panels, put in staircases and take care of the power, water and other needs.”
He adds, “Building with these components is like working with a giant erector set. They’re customizable to each customer’s needs, but they come as pieces ready for assembly. Since we don’t have to start from ground zero with a structural engineer, it’s an efficient, cost-effective process.”
Kris emphasizes other advantages offered by steel structures. Galvanized steel materials provide superior strength and durability. They’re rust-, rot- and insect-resistant. Structural steel framing can let the roof of an aviation hangar span up to 300 feet without supporting columns.
It’s not only steel in the mix. SEA CON builds with concrete, as well—foundations, walls and parking garage floors and columns. Case in point: the three-story Issaquah Medical Building with a two-story parking structure.
Building with steel means savings in both construction costs and long-term building maintenance costs for large structures. “Steel is our bread and butter,” Kris says, “but steel construction doesn’t make economic sense for some smaller structures, so we do our share of wood-and-brick construction, like the Brookfield Veterinary Hospital in Redmond.”
Business Relocation– Finding New Homes Fast
Metal building materials may speed the ground-up construction process, but new construction isn’t usually a major factor in SEA CON’s business relocation services. Unfortunately, the timeframes involved can be so tight that most relocation clients don’t have the luxury of building new structures from scratch. “Typically, our relocation customers are forced into leaving their existing quarters by eminent domain procedures,” Kris says. “Because of its multitude of hills and lakes, Puget Sound has challenging highway issues and difficult traffic problems. The region is dealing with it through massive expansion of light rail and highway infrastructure—which means more eminent domain land seizures.
“We don’t get heavily involved in the acquisition process, but once an acquisition is settled, businesses on the affected sites find themselves facing unplanned relocations. Typically, they have 12 to 18 months to be off the property,” he says.
Relocating, say, a law office with desks, bookcases and files is relatively easy. SEA CON’s clients are usually factories, warehouses and other operations with specialized equipment like cranes and extensive manufacturing machinery. Restaurants and medical facilities face challenges with the transfer of kitchen equipment and sophisticated electronics. And they all often come with special water and power needs.
“The ideal option would be finding them new pieces of land and having us construct a new facility,” Kris says. “In most cases, they don’t have the time or finances to do that. More often than not, they move to an existing facility and we assist them with the necessary designs and renovations.”
For a commercial or industrial operation, relocation is more than just a logistical issue. It has financial and operating implications, as well. “Keep in mind,” Kris says, “that as they go through this mess, they have businesses to run. We have a significant commercial development component, and we use our business expertise to help them not just with the renovation elements but also with financial, logistical and business planning. Often, we help them reconfigure their business.”
Then, there’s the psychological factor. The process of forced relocation can be something like going through the stages of grief, Kris says. “The first day we meet them, it’s often ‘The sky is falling. I hate everybody. They can’t do this to me. I’m never going to survive this.’
“We guide them through the process. We tell them, ‘The sooner you accept it, the better,’ and ‘Look at it as an opportunity.’ In the end, many clients look around and go ‘Look at me now. I bought some new equipment and reconfigured with new technology. Now, I’m more streamlined and operating more efficiently, so it’s been good to go through this process.’ ”
Expertise, Quality, Reliability
With some $75 million in annual revenues, SEA CON is smaller than many other general contractors, Kris acknowledges. “But,” he says, “we’re honed in on what we’re good at, and we’re known for expertise, quality and reliability.
“We have a strong repeat customer base, and we often connect with new clients through referrals from former clients. It’s not unusual for someone to come in our door because they’re specifically looking for us and our experience in the things we specialize in.
“We’re known as one of the premier constructors of steel buildings in the region,” he says, adding, “Actually, the country.”