Commercial contractors handling materials for commercial project on roof.

Whether you’re starting a new business, need to move to a larger warehouse, or just need to remodel your current office building, you’ll be in need of a commercial general contractor. This contractor manages your construction project: buying materials, hiring professionals, and covering liability issues. Pick the wrong contractor, and you can end up with shoddy work, completion delays, and even lawsuits. 

So, how do you find the right general contractor for your project?

What Does a Commercial General Contractor Actually Do?

Every commercial building is made up of several distinct components, including the structural framework, roof, electrical wiring, plumbing, insulation, and more. All of these areas are addressed by specialist subcontractors, including roofers, drywall hangers, electricians and plumbers, and completed work must meet municipal building code requirements and zoning regulations.

A general contractor acts as the manager of the overall commercial construction project. They hire subcontractors, purchase materials, and handle all the permits and paperwork. They also carry bonds and insurance to cover costs when problems arise.

That’s a lot of responsibility, especially when it can mean thousands or even millions of dollars are on the line! 

Direct costs and indirect costs related to construction can quickly add up, and an experienced building contractor knows which subcontractors deliver the best work and can get the work done on schedule. They negotiate the best deals on materials without skimping on quality. And, if anything goes wrong, they’ll handle it, whether it’s an error in construction or issues that delay permit approvals.

So, how do you find a commercial builder who fits the mold for success? Let’s answer the questions below to narrow down options, and find a contractor who will get the job done on time and within budget without skimping on quality.

What Can You Learn From Qualifications and Past Commercial Construction Projects?

You wouldn’t hire an employee without checking their references, so why would you blindly hire a contractor without researching their track record? It’s all about due diligence. Talk to previous clients who have worked with the contractor. It will either give you peace of mind that they do quality work or raise red flags.

Do you know someone in the area who had a similar commercial construction project? Before you start accepting bids, ask them if they have recommendations or referrals. When you’re talking to contractors, ask them to give you examples of similar projects they’ve worked on so that you can talk to people with direct experience in regard to their work.

What is the General Contractor’s Safety Record?

According to a study conducted by the Construction Users Roundtable, 6.5% of the money spent on industrial, commercial and utility construction went to covering direct and indirect costs from accidents. Of course, the actual cost will vary widely depending on the project; if there’s a major accident, these costs can skyrocket. 

For this reason, most companies check the safety records of potential contractors near the start of the selection process.

Checking the safety record of a contractor can give you an idea of their ability to select and manage subcontractors, as well as the liability you may be putting your company under by hiring them. A poor safety record can be a sign that the contractor cuts corners across the board, not just on their safety practices. 

Hiring a union contractor can make this process easier, because unionized construction companies require workers to meet a high level of professional skill and safety awareness in order to maintain the company’s reputation.

How Does Their Bid Compare to Other Contractors’ Bids?

A bid is more than just an estimated cost. It should be a comprehensive overview of the steps the contractor will take to complete the project. Often, you may find that the lowest bid is the least complete, failing to account for the full scope of work. This can quickly lead to cost overruns. 

Of course, not everything can be determined beforehand, so parts of the bid include estimates. But, if these estimates aren’t capped, they could end up being much higher once construction is underway. To add to this confusion, there’s no industry standard in regard to a way bids are presented. 

When comparing bids and choosing a general contractor for your commercial construction project, try to identify what is and isn’t included with each proposal. A competent contractor will give you a good overall picture of the construction project, including all projected costs for each stage.

Does the Contractor Carry Proper Licensing?

Most jurisdictions require that contractors have a license, carry insurance, and be bonded. However, these requirements can vary quite a bit. 

Even if a company has the required coverage, it may not be enough to mitigate the risk involved in your project. When you’re choosing a contractor, it’s a good idea to double-check qualifications. Licensing can be checked online through government agencies, while you can often verify insurance coverage through the insurance agency itself.

Who is licensed? That depends on where you’re located. In Pennsylvania, there is no state licensing system for general contractors, but there may be local licensing requirements. For example, crane operators and workers who remove lead and asbestos must be certified by the state. Other subcontractors may need to be certified locally.

In Ohio, most construction trades, including electricians, plumbers and HVAC contractors, are licensed by the Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board (OCILB), while general contractors are licensed through municipal agencies. These agencies set requirements for liability insurance, and may divide licensing into separate categories, like home improvement and general contracting.

If you want to simplify your search, look for union contractors. They go above and beyond state and municipal licensing requirements. Not only do they need to be insured and bonded, but they also have to be in good standing with the union. This means they have completed the latest training and education and maintain a high quality of workmanship.

Do They Know How to Communicate With You?

As a business owner, when your business and your finances are at stake, you need to know everything is going according to plan. No matter how skilled a general contractor may be, they can be a poor choice if they don’t have a good rapport with your company.

When you’re choosing a commercial builder, consider how you want to stay in communication. Do you want updates on a regular schedule or as stages of the projects are completed? How often do you want to be updated on progress? Do you want to hear from the contractor in person, through email, or through a phone call? 

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, the building contractor‘s willingness and effectiveness to communicate could be the deciding factor.

Find the Right Local Commercial Contractor for Your Construction Project

The Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania represents over 150 reputable construction firms across Columbiana, Mahoning, Trumbull, Mercer, and Lawrence counties. This includes commercial general contractors, as well as subcontractors from 16 skilled trades. By starting your initial steps for choosing a commercial contractor through The Builders Association, you can narrow down your search to reputable union contractors with the experience needed to complete your project on time and within budget.