Rebuilding Western New York Block by Block

Mark Cerrone

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Mark Cerrone is headquartered in Niagara Falls, New York, the second most visited attraction in the state besides New York City. Each year, millions of people visit the area and great efforts have been undertaken to improve the aesthetic of the city, which has been in need of a facelift for quite some time. That is where Mark Cerrone comes in.
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Since 1999, Mark Cerrone has positioned itself as the premier civil site contractor and construction company in Western New York and has played a significant role in rebuilding the communities and markets it serves. The company has a reputation for putting quality and safety first and a history of proven project delivery.

Mark Cerrone founded the company that bears his name. The company got its start in residential construction with only a single backhoe and a used dump truck. A couple of years later, as its capacity grew, the company set its sights on focusing on larger scale projects.

“The company had grown from brand new in 1999, and by 2006-2007 we were doing $8 to $10 million worth of public work as well as our industrial clients,” explained Director of Operations George Lodick. “From the beginning, we have had several commercial and industrial clients because we initially got our start with snowplowing contracts; this led us into recurring work in industrial plants from maintenance and then into railroad. This helped define our divisional growth,” he shared.

“Each little thing was built on the next until the company got to a point where it was able to look at public work,” he continued. “Demolition was also one of our earlier specialties, so we were able to bid and win the company’s first major public project in 2003 – the demolition and asbestos abatement for an old local industrial site which was being rehabilitated.”

The company’s portfolio has expanded over the years to include site work, site preparation and remediation, demolition, asbestos abatement, railroad construction and management, equipment rental, landscaping, industrial maintenance and so much more.

“We have the ability to take a job from demolition to landscaping,” said Vice President George Churakos. “We’ve got a lot of different areas where we can showcase our versatility and bring value to any project, from the inception of a project through preplanning, scheduling and execution through to completion. While we don’t typically perform vertical construction, we work with a lot of companies who have to get out of the ground that build varying structures inside timelines and we’re really the first people on site to make that happen,” he said.

The ongoing expansion of its services has enabled the firm to successfully bid on multi-million dollar public projects such as the rehabilitation of Third Street in Niagara Falls’ tourist section in the mid-2000s. This was the first public project of that magnitude for the company.

As a result of its proven performance on an increasingly larger scale, with more complex projects added to the firm’s resume, Mark Cerrone has secured multiple public projects with the State of New York and numerous municipalities, while continuing work for clients like Occidental Chemical and DuPont.

Sadly, in early 2007, as the company was gaining traction and widening its reach, Mark Cerrone was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He passed away in May of the same year, leaving the company’s future hanging in the balance.

The next year and a half was spent in transition. The company completed projects to which it had already committed and questioned what the future would hold. In 2009, despite the challenges of the recession, Mark Cerrone changed ownership and became a woman-owned business enterprise that still focuses on growth and the ability to service its customers.

“That’s when Stephanie and George Churakos joined with Mark’s brother Vince and purchased the company,” Lodick said. Stephanie, George, and Vince had been with the company for a long time and knew what it would take to keep the firm leading its market.

“All of these things were happening at a time of national controversies, like the 2008 downturn and the banking issues. However, Western New York has never been a growth community, so the swings of the national market didn’t dramatically affect us,” said Stephanie Churakos, company president.

There was a renewed interest in public spending which kick-started private investments in the region. Both Niagara Falls and Buffalo stood to benefit greatly from the stimulus, and Mark Cerrone was positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities that would arise.

Keeping quality and safety first, the company expanded into Buffalo and then east across New York, almost to New York City. Though its projects are typically located within a day’s drive of its headquarters, a satellite office was opened in Rochester, New York to better support that growing market.

Recently, the company has been busy with the Bringing Traffic back to Main Street project in Buffalo. Work has been completed on the 500 and 600 blocks of one of Buffalo’s premier streets. The project included roadwork and the installation of a new track bed as well as a rail for the NFTA’s rapid transit system, which was active during construction. Work is now set to begin on the 100 block of Main Street.

Mark Cerrone has also worked extensively on Buffalo’s Erie Canal and Waterfront Redevelopment, including Buffalo’s Historic Streets Project that rebuilt cobblestone roadways to bring a character and sense of history to the area, and to Buffalo’s Canalside and the Inner Harbor Project where the company installed a hardscaped park and fountain at the starting point on the original Erie Canal.

Mark Cerrone also performed mass excavation and site work for Buffalo’s HarborCenter, a retail, hotel, and major ice rink venue built by Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula that connects to the Key Bank Center and overlooks all of Canalside, Buffalo’s new center of recreational and entertainment activity along the Lake Erie waterfront. Likewise, along Buffalo’s Outer Harbour, the company installed a new pier at Tifft Street and completed the Industrial Heritage Trail along the former port facilities and grain silos. Beyond the owners’ vision for the company, the firm credits its success to a team of estimators, project managers, supervisors, engineers and tradespeople who are qualified, trained experts and consummate professionals within their respective fields. “We try to find quality people in recruiting, and once we find them, we invest in them through training and professional development. We want our people to be the best in class, because as a company, we strive to be best in class as well,” noted Churakos.

“Our goal is to continue to grow the skills of each person who works here to be the best they can be – so we can remain as productive, profitable and cutting edge as we can in the marketplace. Our employees are valuable to us, so we invest in them,” she said.

Safety is the key element of the company’s success that is reinforced by a safety committee and monitored by designated safety professionals who administer a robust training program. Mark Cerrone is also a union contractor that benefits from the union-sponsored training and certifications.

“It’s not just something that’s discussed here; it’s our culture,” Churakos stated about Mark Cerrone’s approach to safety. “We embrace it, rather than just speak about it. We have a huge commitment to safety. It’s always been one of our hallmarks.”

Mark Cerrone complies with and meets or exceeds the standards set by regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and New York agencies like the Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). It is also a licensed asbestos, lead, and mold abatement contractor with numerous NYS Department of Labor licensed supervisors, designers, and abatement workers.

Despite its growth, its successes and the various challenges it has overcome, the most meaningful aspect of Mark Cerrone’s work is the community impact it has achieved. “There is something more to it than just finishing and walking away; there’s more when you can actually see what your contributions are. There’s a spirit in Buffalo that hasn’t existed in a long time, and, though our names are not on any of our projects, seeing people use our docks, enjoy the fountain or drive on Main Street is something you can take pride in,” Lodick said, and this, he believes, is the best part of his job.

By adapting to the marketplace to deliver project results for its customers, Mark Cerrone is poised to remain a leader in the construction and revitalization efforts that are ongoing in Western New York long into the future. The projects the company undertakes affords it the opportunity to have a positive impact on the communities it serves.

“If we keep ourselves separated as best in class through our hard work and effort, we’re confident we can contain and retain everybody that has helped get us to where we are at and continue on this path,” explained Churakos.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 11, 2019, 10:15 PM EST