BROWNSTONE: BUSINESS IN SAVANNAH PROFILE
Brownstone Construction Group was born in 2005 in Columbia, S.C., where it still has its headquarters. Then, in 2008, it opened an office in Savannah with a goal of going after government contracts and has grown here each year since — from one employee to seven.
The firm has a third office in Charleston, S.C.
Brownstone is an example of a successful minority-owned company that has done what public construction policies designed to give an edge to women- and minority-owned businesses are intended to do — help those businesses grow and expand their capabilities.
Brownstone’s president and founder, Dale L. Collier, earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of South Carolina and has earned his certification in construction management.
“In project management (and) program management, we act as the owner’s agent,” Collier said. “When they have multiple projects going over multiple years, they bring in someone who has that kind of management expertise.”
Brownstone’s website describes the firm as a company of “… experienced and competent professionals who can manage, design and deliver projects as clients expect, with superior quality, under budget and on time.”
Program/project management may sound like construction jargon, but it is the heart and soul of a successful large construction project or set of projects. Their job is to avoid large-build construction horror stories about projects coming in late, over budget and still not meeting the project owner’s wants or needs.
This is especially vital, Collier said, when an entity or owner is juggling multiple major building projects spanning multiple years.
“Take, for instance, school districts,” Collier said. “They know a lot about educating kids but not much expertise when it comes to the language of construction,” he said. “They look for an entity (like us) to bring in the expertise and the multi-tasking capabilities needed to ensure that their projects get done right, under budget and on time.”
Collier said the role of program manager, i.e., owner’s agent, often carries with it some level of friction with the contractors who are doing the construction. Sometimes, he said, contractors feel they’re being “watched” by the owner, simply by having the owner’s agent present at all times.
“We’ve been able to work with contractors to the point where now they are asking us when we will be managing projects,” Collier said. “For instance, schools are a different animal. They are not something most contractors build every day. Schools are built with tight budgets and very strict time frames.
“They have to be ready when the kids go back to school. We bring the expertise to know where the pitfalls are and help contractors avoid problems in construction and in the building itself, years down the road. They see us as a key partner and a resource.”
Miguel Camacho, a Savannah native and director of business development for Brownstone’s Savannah operations, said the firm’s first project in Savannah was Pulaski Elementary School.
“We sent in quality-assurance personnel and then a pre-construction coordinator,” he said.
Other local Brownstone projects include Gadsden Elementary, the new Hodge Elementary and Brock Elementary at 1804 Stratford St.
“We provide boots on the ground, helping with the overall management of the project,” Camacho said.
When the expansion of the Chatham County Detention Center was underway, Brownstone served as part of the project management team, Camacho said.
Another construction management company from outside the area with a strong background in prison construction was called upon as the overall project manager, he said.
“That was an expertise we didn’t have,” he said. “But they reached out to us to help coordinate local participation.”
Camacho was referring to policies that encourage a certain percentage of work on public construction projects to be handled by local, as well as women- and minority-owned businesses (WMBE).
Collier, who is African American and an WMBE principal, has built strong relationships with local contractors in South Carolina and Georgia.
Savannah and Chatham County have a strong WWBE community, said David W. Hamilton, executive vice president of commercial construction for Jacksonville-based Elkins Constructors, Inc.
“We have partnered with Brownstone to utilize businesses in the local MWBE community and have fared very well,” said Hamilton. “The partnership has been so successful that we have built relationships with several local MWBE companies that we use, not only on projects where there is a requirement and, quite often, where there is no requirement, because we have developed those relationships through Brownstone.
”We consider Miguel and Brownstone one of our key stakeholders … We talk almost daily.”
Brownstone has become a highly-valued partner in construction management, Hamilton said.
He said he first worked with Brownstone in 2011 after the two firms already had established a relationship.
“We have partnered with Brownstone on four projects for the Savannah-Chatham School District,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said Elkins currently is partnering with Brownstone on a project slated to begin next year with Savannah State University. along with several other projects in south Georgia.
“They’re a great partner,” Hamilton said.