By Karen Hawthorne
Not many companies can take on a construction project from start to finish. Denham-Blythe has been doing just that for more than 40 years across a wide range of industries. The secret? An excellent team of designers and builders under one roof.
Take a walk through the streets in any American city and you will see impressive buildings – from office towers to hospitals to factories. What you don’t see is the all the vision, time, planning and work that goes into the construction of these buildings.
Raising these structures takes hundreds of people. You’ve got architects, engineers, contractors, equipment operators and more, so often the biggest challenge becomes managing the people and their competing voices to keep the timelines moving and on budget.
That is the hard work that takes place even before one shovel goes in the ground. Then, when construction does start, different factors such as safety, logistics and other unexpected issues must be managed. Few companies are able to take their clients through all these steps of a construction project without having to subcontract work out.
Denham-Blythe is one company that can.
With its 40 years of design and build history, this company knows how to get it all done. The “Design-Build” delivery method is really about covering all the steps in a construction project from the point of sketching out what a building may look like to designing it, and ultimately building it from the ground up.
Denham-Blythe got its start from two engineers out of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where the company is headquartered, who saw the value of having all people working on a project sit down at the same table to prevent obstacles before they crop up. Now, Denham-Blythe has two additional offices in Nashville, Tennessee and Greenville, South Carolina, boasts 200 employees, and has handled more than 10,000 projects for clients across diverse industries, including manufacturing, automotive, food, pharma and healthcare. It also takes on different sizes of projects from small startups to Fortune 500 companies.
“We do work on buildings associated with everything from bananas to Post-It Notes,” says Michael Patterson, Executive Vice President of Construction and Business Development for Denham-Blythe.
“Our relationships are so well established because the customer has one person to talk to. It’s a single point of communication and responsibility,” Patterson says. “Having all the forces in house is actually very uncommon. You will see people and companies that offer ‘design-build’ but realistically, there are very few in the industry that have all of those design disciplines and construction capabilities employed full-time in their company.”
The company takes pride in being able to tackle the more complicated projects because of its diverse and specialized staff. About 85 percent of all the work the company does is turnkey with Denham-Blythe handling the entire end-to-end design and construction.
“We have a saying here that if it’s a difficult, challenging project then that’s a perfect Denham-Blythe job,” Patterson says. “We have the whole package for design and build elements, including architects, civil and structural engineers, mechanical, electrical – all of those disciplines along with the construction forces as well. So we enjoy those projects and it sets us apart from the competition.”
And some of the projects can be incredibly complex. For example, one of Denham-Blythe’s clients required a major processing line renovation in its factory. “That’s not anything abnormal for us in general; but we ended up working in the middle of a functioning facility. So we had to rebuild the line while not interrupting production on either side of it.” Oh and by the way, the factory was producing specialized glass, the kind that you see on an iPhone, so the margin of error during all this work was zero.
So, with two glass production lines working on either side, the Denham-Blythe team carved out the middle of the plant and made the new part of the building deeper by taking it down 20 feet into the rock to create the height needed for the production line. “Just logistically putting that in the bullseye or center of a functioning glass manufacturing facility was very interesting, very challenging. It involved some very major cranes and a lot of planning,” says Patterson.
To accomplish all this, the company had six teams work continuously, seven days a week for about six months. “It was very high-risk work but we didn’t have an accident either, so we are very proud of our safety record on that one.”
Other significant projects the company is currently working on include a 29,000-square-foot, three-floor expansion of cable manufacturer Okonite Company’s logistics building in Orangeburg, South Carolina. This involved expanding the dock area of the facility as well as creating 75,000 square feet of paved parking for trucks. Denham-Blythe was also chosen to design and build a 270,000-square-foot plant for DAE-IL Corporation, a powertrain and parts manufacturer for the automotive industry.
What is even more impressive is that during the work on all of these large-scale and complex projects, Denham-Blythe has more than 1 million safe man hours of work – that is the equivalent of about 35 months of work. The company has been recognized with Governor’s awards in both Kentucky and Tennessee for its work excellence as well as its safety record.
“Safety for us is a value and a cultural element,” Patterson says. “The numbers are more than just numbers; it’s really what we value and we take it very seriously. We start each meeting with a safety topic, and all of our projects have a job hazard analysis.”
These high safety standards qualify the company to bid on projects for larger, more robust companies. It’s these larger companies that actually pre-screen potential contractors to ensure that they have a solid safety track record.
Along with all the success Denham-Blythe has achieved, the challenge to continue to recruit and hire the best talent is firmly on the radar. “We are seeing a turning of the tide now to more interest in vocational programs and construction trades, because people are realizing you can make a good wage.” To scout out future talent, Denham-Blythe has established a co-op program where high school students have the chance to get a real-world view of how things work at the company.
But there’s more to what the company does than steel and concrete. Certain jobs stand out for their impact on the lives of people and the environment, which is an important legacy for the company.
For example, “We will be working to build a game-changing plastics recycling facility,” shares Patterson. “It will be brand new in the industry and we are very proud to be part of that opportunity. It should be under construction in the last quarter of the year. We also work in healthcare building so we know that we are doing work that helps people directly.”