Campbell: Callas ‘well positioned for success’

Callas Contractors was founded by Michael G. Callas a year after current president and CEO Timothy R. Campbell was born in 1957.

Campbell moved to Hagerstown in 1962 when his father, Verdine “Dean” Campbell, became employed as a civil engineer with the international design firm of Baker-Wibberly and Associates on Northern Avenue. In 1972 Dean Campbell and Robert Whitesell formed Seibert, Whitesell and Campbell, which is now the firm of Frederick Seibert and Associates Inc. Dean died in 1975 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 45.

While growing up, Tim Campbell attended Paramount Elementary School, North Potomac Junior High School and graduated from Saint James School near Hagerstown in 1976. He went to Clemson University, earning a degree in architecture in 1980.

The recession of the early 1980s led Campbell to a career opportunity: He moved into construction, a sector that was still somewhat lively. Campbell was recruited by Callas in 1988 to manage some of the company’s largest building projects. In 1998, Campbell formed another construction company — Excel Construction Co. — with his partner and businessman, Frank Plessinger.

Mike Callas died while on a Memorial Day vacation in 2004 at the age of 83. The Callas Contractors Board of Directors at the time included business leaders Robert Zeigler and Jack Costa as well as the company president, Harry Reynolds. The board asked Campbell to step in as a successor. He accepted and in 2005 became president and CEO of Callas Contractors.

Generally, what’s the climate like for commercial contractors? How far must you plan ahead, and what do you see coming down the pike?

Commercial construction is highly competitive with extremely tight margins, particularly over the last eight years.
The trend seems to be improving where we can be a bit more selective on projects that we excel in. We are fortunate to be very diverse, with an ability to self-perform many components of a building project, including minor earthwork, utilities, pipefitting, concrete, carpentry and drywall.

Managing our backlog, or the value of projects remaining to complete, is critical to our success. Planning is key to first having enough work that supports our overhead costs, which are substantial, and then additional work to recognize any profits or losses for the year. Some negotiated work can take many months to recognize as viable and “in the books.” Projects that are publicly bid can normally be added to the backlog immediately. In round numbers, a company that has a $10 million backlog with a $1 million overhead requires all projects to earn 10 percent just to break even. The risks are obvious if one or two projects fall short.

Has the change in administration in Washington, D.C., made any difference in your business, and what do you see for the future with regards to that?

The change in administration in Washington, D.C., is most welcome to our industry. The prior administration was compelled to punish business through regulations and taxes. They even promoted Project Labor Agreements to require union-only contractors on government projects that excluded nearly 90 percent of the construction companies in this country. We believe in the “merit shop” approach, which guarantees fare competition in the construction market. The Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. was founded in 1950 when seven contractors gathered in Baltimore to create an association based on the shared belief that construction projects should be awarded on merit to the most qualified and responsible low bidders. The courage and dedication of those seven contractors helped to quickly spread the merit shop. Callas Contractors has been a faithful supporter of ABC since the 1950s, and Mike Callas was its national chairman from 1973 to 1974.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face (manpower, capital, financing and so on) and how are you addressing them?

The biggest challenge for all in the construction industry is developing a qualified workforce. Shortages in trade professionals are becoming unsustainable. Our youth have an incredible opportunity to have a successful career in a trade that is rewarding in results and in income. Our needs are driving wages without government intervention, which illustrates how capitalism does work when demand becomes competitive.

What are some of the advantages of working as a general contractor in this region?

Working as a general contractor in this region appears to be improving. The economy here in the past has driven us to other more vibrant areas. Unfortunately, some adjoining states or even nearby local municipalities are sometimes not welcoming of “out of town” contractors. We have an excellent working relationship with our local and Maryland state governments, and most are encouraged for our being the successful contractor as a result.

What are some of Callas’ current major projects?

Upcoming projects include two at Saint James School, the Pohanka Fine Arts building and the Alumni Hall expansion. Together they are valued at approximately $12 million. The company also is working on an “embassy style” residence to be built in Potomac, Md., for nearly $20 million. The private sector is finally showing strong signs of consumer confidence.

From your viewpoint as a contractor, what kinds of infrastructure changes are needed in this region? Any ideas on how to go about making those changes?

Regarding our infrastructure, I can remember 10 to 20 years ago, when you entered the State of Maryland on any road, the quality was so much superior than the state you just left. I really can’t say that is the case anymore. I think it will improve, as is evident on roads like Interstate 81. The information highway for Washington County, though, is leaps and bounds above our neighbors. This investment should attract businesses and greatly improve the economy.

Callas Contractors’ participation in water and wastewater type infrastructure projects is also expanding. Pump stations for Washington County in Smithsburg, at the new Walmart on Sharpsburg Pike and in Williamsport on Governor Lane Boulevard are three very recent examples.

It is noteworthy that many (employees) have been employed at Callas for more than 20 years and up to as many as 45 years. The employees of Callas are very loyal and dependable, each with a vested interest in molding their company. Callas Contractors is well positioned for success, considering its longevity and its outstanding team of professionals that always has their clients’ interests foremost.

On the job

With a vast résumé of completed projects, Callas Contractors is currently nearing completion of:

• Berkeley County fire station in Inwood, W.Va.;
• Public Safety Facility in Ashburn, Va.;
• BSL 3 labs for the U.S. Geological Survey in Kearneysville, W.Va.;
• Maryland Correctional Enterprises warehouse in Jessup, Md.

The company also is in partnership with Procter & Gamble for lab improvements in Berkeley Springs and in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Specialty contracts include:

• Blaise Alexander Chevrolet in Greencastle, Pa.;
• Valspar Corp. in Williamsport, Md.;
• Vivarium Lab Improvements at Forest Glen in Silver Spring, Md.;
• Monocacy Wastewater Treatment Center in Frederick, Md.;
• FEMA in Mount Weather, Va.