Aviation Construction Specialists Soar to Success

VRH Construction

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VRH Construction is all about aviation construction. The company focuses on airport construction projects, primarily in the U.S. northeast. The firm’s emphasis makes it unique, says President Vic Wortmann, Jr.
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“We do have competitors out there that have part of their portfolio centered on aviation … but we’re not aware of any other company in the northeast [so concentrated on aviation construction],” he states.

VRH was founded in 1958 by Wortmann Jr.’s father, Vic Wortmann, Sr. and uncle, Robert Wortmann. The pair is retired but “called upon as needed” to assist or give advice, says Wortmann, Jr.

“We have a flat organizational structure and I run the day-to-day operations of the company. We still operate as a family firm and have every intention of doing so as we move forward,” he explains.

The company headquarters is Englewood, New Jersey. VRH also has staffed offices at John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.

VRH has worked with almost sixty airlines over the years. Past and present clients include Pan Am, TWA, Eastern, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and The Port Authority of NY/NJ. Clearly, VRH has made some friends along the way: “right now, about ninety percent of our business is repeat work,” notes Wortmann, Jr. He says that revenue is “strong [and] on the rise.”

Wortmann, Jr. wants management team employees with great “initiative and creative ideas.”

The company has about ninety employees at present, divided between manual and non-manual workers. VRH runs a one or two-day orientation program that all new personnel go through. Follow-up training continues after that.

“We are putting into place – for 2017 – a company-wide employee training program where we’re going to offer courses, on a monthly basis. This will be a formalized training program and we will cover everything… from LEED training, to lessons learned workshops, application software, et cetera… We’re going to develop a training facility in our headquarters and offer this program for years to come,” says Wortmann, Jr.

The average tenure of a VRH employee is an impressive twelve years. Asked how they instill such loyalty, Wortmann, Jr. says, “It’s really the culture that we have here. We’ve always looked after the very best interests of our employees, whether it be through the benefits programs we have or just the continual work. A lot of times, in the construction industry… people are hired for a job then let go. We’re proud of the fact that we keep our folks engaged and busy on projects even during slow times. That’s one of the hallmarks of the company. We do not hire just for projects, then lay people off. We look to build that trust among the employees.”

VRH has been involved in some very large-scale projects. These include the Delta Terminal D at LaGuardia Airport, Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport, and the 1.4 million-square-foot, thirty-six-gate Terminal 8 for American Airlines at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Terminal 8 “was close to a billion dollar project” that “spanned the better part of a decade, from the late ‘90s to about 2008,” recollects Wortmann, Jr. VRH recently completed the Delta Airlines Terminal C/D Renovation Program at LaGuardia, a project worth $120 million, he adds.

Safety is a top concern at VRH. All field personnel are required to have a 30 hour OSHA Certification and subcontractors must attend a mandatory Safety Orientation Session and the company creates site-specific safety plans for every project.

To increase efficiency, the firm has developed a proprietary software system, called VRH Office Pro Software (OPRO). This system ties together various aspects of business development, pre-construction, estimating, purchasing, change management, cost control and safety into one automated system.

OPRO was “something that I actually started designing with a software developer in the late 1990s. It was started as a cost database. It is very important for us to capture all our historic costs, not just on projects, but even on bids. That was the impetus for it. When we finished that first piece, from there it really started to multiply… to this day, we’re still perfecting it. The beauty of OPRO is that it’s something we can continually perfect as our workflows change.”

To Wortmann, Jr., VRH Office Pro Software is more than just a tool for tying together administrative functions. He views the software as a reflection of the company. “We are a very disciplined group. We’re very focused on planning and preparation. This software underpins that culture,” he explains.

VRH also recently rolled out an app called OPRO on the GO for company employees in the field. With an iPad, personnel can use this app to enter daily work orders, enter payroll information, look at work-site drawings and project schedules. VRH has also created a client version of the app which was rolled out in July.

VRH Construction contains some internal divisions, notable Jetworks and the Small Projects Group. The Jetworks Division installs Passenger Boarding Bridges and other fixed gate equipment.

The Small Projects Group, for its part, focuses on jobs worth $500,000 to $1 million. The group places an emphasis on retail work, with a view to building airport concession spaces. Jetworks and the Small Projects Group were born out of a major rebranding exercise VRH conducted roughly one and a half years ago.

“We want to offer complete turnkey solutions for our clients, whether it’s building a terminal building, installing a jet bridge or finishing out the concession spaces within the terminal.”

The Small Projects Group represents “a way for us to carve out a more nimble and efficient group to perform smaller projects in the retail space… it’s another underpinning for the brand and a way for us to provide complete turnkey solutions to clients,” he says.

It is also a good way to tap into new business. “You look at the upcoming work that’s out there – a number of new terminal projects that are being considered here in the New York metro area. There’s going to be a tremendous amount of retail space that will be built. We’re very well positioned with our Small Projects Group.”

Besides having a detailed website, VRH uses social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn to get its message out. The company just started an email campaign to send out electronic updates every few weeks. VRH has an active marketing arm, with staff regularly attending conferences and spreading the word about the company’s services and reputation.

Given that VRH regularly uses sub-contractors, the firm has very precise hiring criteria for such workers. “We want sub-contractors that have aviation experience. It’s very difficult to pull sub-contractors and vendors from other areas and have them come out to the airport to do work. They have to be badged, they have to be familiar with the security in the airport, they have to be familiar with the logistics – getting materials in and out and people in and out. We’re a company that is very flexible. You have to be in order to work in the aviation construction industry, so we’re looking for that in sub-contractors as well. They have to be flexible; they have to be adaptable to situations; they can’t be surprised with what they might encounter at the airport,” says Wortmann, Jr.

Asked where he sees VRH Construction five years down the road, he says the company plans to continue to embrace new projects. “When I look out and see what is going to potentially happen here in the NY Metro area and Philadelphia as far as new terminal work, there’s at least four or five new terminal projects that are on the horizon… so that’s going to keep us busy for the next five years,” he states.

VRH is mostly going to continue centering its efforts in the northeast. “There’s really not a need to go too far afield. We’ve always stayed close to home. It’s really been part of the success of the company. We don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin,” says the company president.

That said, Jetworks has been expanding, in a careful manner. Jetworks currently has a presence in regional airports in Syracuse, Plattsburgh and Westchester County, New York, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Expanding to these regional airports “so far has proven very successful for us,” he says.

Certain characteristics are vital for success in the aviation construction sector. Companies need to be “very quick, nimble, fast decision making is what the airlines have always required on projects. Flexibility and adaptability are keywords for any aviation project… it’s a very fast-moving, very dynamic environment,” says Wortmann, Jr.

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 26, 2019, 12:51 AM EDT