Business Monday

Q&A with Jeff Gouveia of Suffolk Construction Co.

Jeff Gouveia, president and general manager for the southeast region for Suffolk Construction
Jeff Gouveia, president and general manager for the southeast region for Suffolk Construction Miami Herald Staff

Jeff Gouveia has a lot at stake in Miami’s construction recovery.

At age 44, he has 26 years of experience in the construction business,

The recently appointed president for the Southeast region for Suffolk Construction is ramping up major projects like All Aboard Florida and the Miami Worldcenter and recruiting managers to oversee the growing portfolio of work.

His first task upon arrival was to navigate the firm past the loss of a high-profile project, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.

Suffolk, a closely held Boston-based construction management firm with a big presence in South Florida, tapped Gouveia in May to replace its longtime Southeast regional president and general manager Rex Kirby, who left amid the problems.

In May, Suffolk was terminated as construction manager for the Museum of Science project, a $275million project that was about half-finished. Officials for the museum, which is using $160million in Miami-Dade County bond funds, brought in Skanska USA to replace Suffolk following delays and problems at the project.

For Gouveia, the new post, which encompasses the entire southeast as far west as Texas, marks a return to South Florida. He helped launch Suffolk’s southeast operations in West Palm Beach in 1995 and worked in Florida until 2002 before taking on various assignments in the northeast and in California. He was most recently executive vice president.

As it launches big new projects, Suffolk is going to move its Miami office early next year to One Biscayne Tower from Blue Lagoon office park to bring staffers closer to the heart of the action and make collaboration easier. “It’s a quality-of-life issue,” he said.

“We really want to build the best team of people. Everything else is a result of that activity,” Gouveia said. “Treat everyone with respect all the time. That’s our culture.”

Gouveia sat down with Business Monday to talk about his business and the outlook for construction in South Florida and then responded to emailed questions.

Q: In May, Suffolk was fired as the construction manager for the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. What happened with that project? Has the loss of that high-profile project had any wider impact on your company?

A: We parted ways with the museum because of the project’s numerous design deficiencies and, as a result, the chemistry wasn’t good. This is the first time in the 32-year history of the company this has ever happened. Our clients have been very supportive, so there has not been a wider impact on the company.

Q: Your family recently moved back to South Florida. What do you see as the best and worst of Miami?

A: Miami is truly an international city. Its diversity allows residents to enjoy so many different cultural experiences right in our own backyard. Michaela and I see ourselves as very fortunate to give our children the opportunity to experience such diversity. Oh, and did I mention the weather? For a family that likes water sports, it doesn’t get much better. However, like many dense metropolitan areas, Miami has its challenges. Homelessness is particularly sad to see in a city that is flourishing right now.

Q: Do you think the current boom in residential condo and apartment construction in Miami and South Florida can continue? Are there signs of peaking?

A: As long as Miami remains an international hub and interest rates remain low, I believe this particular boom can continue. Our destination offers stability, forward-thinking leaders and an improving infrastructure, all of which are big pluses to developers and buyers. And the boom isn’t just happening in downtown Miami.

Suffolk is building projects like Jade Signature in Sunny Isles Beach and the recently completed New River Yacht Club in Fort Lauderdale. In terms of the market peaking, there are no signs yet. But, it’s important we be vigilant. By definition, a “boom” can’t go on eternally. The signs of peaking will be apparent when the combination of land and construction costs exceeds the acceptable yield to investors and we begin to see a delay in project commencements.

Q: What is different about this construction cycle?

A: First and foremost, the economic dynamics are vastly different. Condominium projects are now requiring much larger deposits, which has allowed developers and lenders to proceed with less risk. Last cycle, development was far more speculative, and we saw the result. The level of design has also been raised, which will not only result in beautiful buildings, but has helped attract buyers drawn by this excitement.

Q: What is driving up construction costs? Do you see that moderating?

A: Like many other things in business, construction costs are driven by simple supply and demand. There is currently more work than the trades can reasonably handle. The result is that trade and specialty contractors are more selective on what they take on. However, one important difference in this cycle from the last is that we are not seeing contractors taking on too much work. I think many people learned valuable lessons in the last boom. I do not believe this will moderate in the near future. Moderation will only follow a reduction in demand.

Q: What are your plans for hiring at Suffolk over the next year or so?

A: Suffolk is growing with South Florida. We have added more than 80 employees in the past year, and plan to increase staff in the Southeast region by approximately 30 percent in the next 12 to 18 months. This translates to approximately 60 to 70 new people. The current wave of new projects has created tremendous opportunity.

Q: What is driving your decision to relocate your office to downtown Miami?

A: Our current Miami office is west of downtown. Many of our clients’ offices and current and upcoming projects are downtown, such as the All Aboard Florida terminal, Miami Worldcenter, and MET 3. These will be just steps away from [our] new office location. It allows our folks to make more efficient use of their time and creates a closer connection with our teams located full time on our project sites.

Q: How are emerging technologies affecting your business?

A: Emerging technologies are vital in our business and on the job site. All Suffolk projects are 3-D modeled to troubleshoot any potential issues in a virtual environment prior to construction, protecting against costly delays and leading to more efficient solutions. Our field staff use tablets, in lieu of traditional paper copies, for easier reference to project drawings and updates.

Interestingly, drones have also become an important part of our documentation process. All of our videos are shot by drones, and the resolution and clarity is nothing short of amazing!

Q: Is green building taking off in South Florida?

A: Yes, and big time. Green building is central in Miami’s current construction boom. Suffolk is a leader in green building technologies. We have completed or are awaiting certification on more than a dozen LEED projects in South Florida — and our clients have also embraced this movement. It’s not just about focusing on hallmarks like energy conservation and waste reduction, but viewing the project holistically from a “green” perspective and coming up with creative solutions to work towards this goal.

Jeffrey Gouveia Jr.

Title: President and general manager for southeast region of Suffolk Construction Company Inc.

Born: Providence, Rhode Island.

Education: Fordham University, B.A. in philosophy.

Personal: Age 44. Wife is Michaela. Two children: Jacob, 11, and Delaney, 9.

Experience: 26 years in construction industry, including 20 at Suffolk.

Projects: All Aboard Florida’s Miami terminal; Miami-Dade Children’s Courthouse; Miami Worldcenter; Jade Signature in Sunny Isles Beach.