MHN Interview with Phil Slingerland: Modular Construction Is Better for Environment
Phil Slingerland, chief operating officer of Warrior Group, talks to MHN
Warrior Group is one of the largest minority- and woman-owned construction services companies in the country that delivers much more than buildings.
Warrior attributes much of its growth and success to its role in the collaborative efforts to build substantial projects including the U.S. Army headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Fort Bliss, Fort Carson and Fort Sam Houston as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC).
The company aims to be the dominant modular construction company in the U.S.
Phil Slingerland, chief operating officer of Warrior Group, talks to MHN about why they believes modular construction is better for the environment as well as budget than traditional site-built construction and why the U.S. Army has embraced this technique with open arms.
MHN: As a woman-owned company, how does Warrior set itself apart? Are there more women in the company than in the average real estate company?
Slingerland: It sets us apart simply because there are very few woman-owned construction companies in the U.S. Secondly, we are also a minority-owned company. So one thing we focus on is hiring both women and minorities and subcontracting when possible to women-owned or minority-owned companies. Over 50 percent of the company comprises either women or minorities. Roughly half of the senior managers are women or minority or both.
Most real estate companies are not run like us. We have a different perspective on things because we have so many women and there is a diversity of opinion and approach, which adds a little more character to our thinking. The construction industry is conservative and male-dominated and so the composition that we have sometimes gives us a different perspective than others.
MHN: What has been the impact of the recession on the military housing sector?
Slingerland: It is not as drastic by any means as the commercial real estate industry. At the same time, by virtue of the fact that the source of financing for most construction projects right now is public funding–whether they be local, federal, state, universities etc. the bulk of the work is in those sectors. On the other hand, it has added to the competitiveness of those sectors because companies that weren’t ordinarily in those sectors have tried to get work in those sectors. It is an interesting dynamic. We were bidding for school renovation work where there were 18 to 20 bidders, which was never the case before the recession hit. We are not as busy as we were in 2006 but there is still a steady diet of projects coming in.
MHN: What is permanent modular construction, which your company specializes in?
Slingerland: We like to distinguish between permanent and temporary modular construction. When most people think of modular, they think of schools. Our focus is permanent construction using modular techniques. Permanent modular projects are intended to be there for the life of the building and are not intended to move. It’s taking a permanent building and designing it in a slightly different way.
MHN: What are the advantages of modular construction?
Slingerland: We are slightly biased. A key advantage, of course, is speed. By virtue of being able to do parallel construction, rather than sequential construction at a site built project. It is not unusual for a modular building to be constructed in 1/3rd the time as a site built. Therefore, the cost of construction with regards to construction financing is also lower. We believe the quality is better because our quality control process is in a factory. We have three layers for each process in a factory environment and this does not happen during the site built process. It’s a repetitive process with skilled craftsmen. Cost is competitive and lesser depending on the project. In larger scale projects, it’s very competitive price.
The environmental impact of modular construction is much lesser. By virtue of the process, there is very little waste created in a factory environment, also because its in factory, it is cleaner and fewer contaminants are generated. There is also less waste, less landfill and it is safer because there is lot fewer equipment, vehicles and people on the site. As a result there is less noise pollution and air pollution.
MHN: Is there a compromise in design?
Slingerland: The Dean of Architecture at Texas A&M is a big proponent of modular architecture. He believes that you are restricting design alternatives of you aren’t looking at modular construction techniques. You can do anything in modular construction: facades, offsets, colors, schemes etc.
MHN: So if it’s all that good why isn’t everything building modular?
Slingerland: It is becoming an increasingly desirable methodology. It hasn’t been popular because there haven’t been as many people to do it. We have built three million sq ft of modular housing and are attempting to evangelize the methodology. There are a lot of applications; student housing, healthcare and education, hospitality etc. We think it’s the coming wave and hope to be at the leading edge of it.
MHN: Why does it work for military housing?
Slingerland: Permanent modular construction works very well in remote areas. What happens in a remote area is that there is a significant shortage of skilled people but with modular, you eliminate the labor issue. Many military housing projects are remote by nature.
There is also the cost advantage. The projects are so large that you obtain large economies of scale because of the repetitive nature of work. We get very competitive on cost when the projects are large and remote. That’s a characterization of many of the projects that we are working on. It’s worked because the U.S. army has bought into the idea that it’s a viable construction methodology and we’ve also enabled them to get the projects done sooner.
MHN: Is Warrior expanding this year?
Slingerland: Yes, actually we are using this downturn to expand our marketing and business development in other sectors. Warrior is looking at student housing projects, and healthcare and educational applications. We are working with several architects on techniques that enable school districts, as they expand and contract, to move structures, which is a very unique concept.
The company’s long-term objective is to be the dominant permanent modular construction company in the U.S. Our secondary vision is to be the largest woman- and minority-owned const company in the U.S.