Michael Hoffman

The construction industry follows the economy, and as the economic downturn continues, any recovery in construction still seems far off. As a result, projects available for bidding have become fewer and more competitive as companies seek to provide work for their personnel and maintain sustainable income.

In addition to fewer projects to estimate and bid, the projects that are constructed are more difficult to estimate compared to projects during periods of sustained growth in public and private construction. This difficulty is twofold. First, the reinforcing contractor needs to look for ways to be more competitive and innovative and, second, the projects being bid are placing a greater portion of risk on the contractor by the owners and public agencies.

A recent interview with Don Evanson, president of nationwide reinforcing bar placer Alpine Steel Inc., Oregon City, Ore., provided some insight into the criteria important for successful bidding in today’s market.

[Q.] What are contractors looking for in projects that you currently are bidding?

Performance, not necessarily price, is what many contractors are looking for. With the shortage of projects in which to bid, and with bidding more competitive than ever, it is often the contractor who can offer more than price that will end up with the project.

[Q.] What are the most important issues that you look for when estimating a project?

After 29 years in the reinforcing business, estimating the man-hours necessary to place the steel has become second nature. But what affects that estimate and can make or break a job, turning a potentially profitable project into a loss are: 1) a mutually agreeable schedule, 2) project access and laydown areas sufficient for the project, and 3) a hoisting plan that takes into consideration all trades on the project and is sufficient to meet the schedule.

[Q.] How has your estimating technique changed as the market has changed?

Ironworker productivity has risen only 3% over the past several years. It is still a primitive and labor-intensive process. As designs have become more complex, the placing contractor—to become more productive—needs to look to nontypical methods of reinforcing steel placement. The techniques we use to increase labor productivity and allow better estimates with minimal added project cost include preassembly of reinforcing steel components, which requires sufficient laydown areas and contractor coordination for hoisting, and use of rebar terminators to relieve reinforcing steel congestion.

[Q.] What makes a good contractor: one whose projects you want to bid?

The capability of the contractor and their commitment to push the schedule and commit to supporting the trades involved in completing the reinforcing steel and concrete placement. The days of just calculating the man-hours necessary to place the rebar, and applying overhead and profit are long gone. Today’s market requires innovative and creative estimating and project analysis to remain both competitive and successful.