SAFEBuilt back on growth track

The coming rehabilitation of the Foothills Mall in Fort Collins isn’t welcome news to shoppers alone.

The people at SAFEBuilt, a building inspection firm, also are looking forward to it, hoping the project will lead to work for its crews.

SAFEBuilt has good reason to believe it will, in fact, land the job; Denver-based Alberta Development Partners, the developer that recently acquired the mall, has worked with SAFEBuilt in the past.

SAFEBuilt gave its blessing to The Streets at SouthGlenn, an Alberta mall in Centennial completed in 2009.

Getting the Foothills Mall gig would be the latest piece of good news for a company that has been growing all year.

As a result of the relatively brighter outlook in construction, SAFEBuilt is celebrating its 20th year in business with a 45 percent increase in employee numbers and a year-over-year revenue jump that could be as large as 35 percent.

SAFEBuilt serves as an independent inspector for municipalities in Colorado and in other markets across the country, helping to ensure that construction projects within those municipalities conform to safety codes.

Headquartered in Loveland, SAFEBuilt does business in Georgia, Michigan and South Carolina, as well as all over Colorado.

Locally, SAFEBuilt counts communities such as Windsor, Severance, Nunn and Pierce among its 120 clients.

It works to ensure that anything for which a municipality issues a permit is up to building codes. That means everything from new construction, both residential and commercial, to installation of HVAC systems.

Basically, “if it is permitted by the city, we do it,´ said owner and CEO Mike McCurdie.

McCurdie’s background is in chemical engineering. He worked for LSI Logic, a California-based company that designs semiconductors and software for data centers, before purchasing SAFEBuilt in 1999 after deciding he needed a change.

At the time, SAFEBuilt was called Colorado Inspection Agency and had just four employees serving 10 clients. Colorado Inspection Agency was founded in 1992.

By the time the recession hit, McCurdie had grown the company to 70 employees

But even in the middle of a recession, SAFEBuilt experienced some bright spots, earning a Bravo! award from the Business Report and being recognized as one of Colorado’s “Best Places to Work” by the Society for Human Resource Management Colorado State Council in 2009.

The company was also named to Inc. Magazine’s Top 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies in 2011.

Accolades aside, the downturn meant tight finances for SAFEBuilt. It was forced to lay off employees, cutting its staff back to 55.

SAFEBuilt experienced about a 20 percent drop in revenue, according to McCurdie.

“Revenues were flat in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but we’re seeing a turnaround this year,” he said.

As a result, SAFEBuilt is hiring again and its ranks have been built back up to 80 people in offices across the country; as many as 10 more hires are in the pipeline.

Finding the right people for SAFEBuilt is no easy task, according to McCurdie. He likes to hire employees with backgrounds in construction, obviously, but in particular looks for those who are certified by the International Code Council.

“(Our) guys aren’t making stuff up as they go,” McCurdie said. “They’re like tax accountants. You want them to follow the rules.”

SAFEBuilt has also grown by acquisition within the last year.

In March, it purchased England Enterprises, a Charleston, S.C.-based company that provides building inspection, planning reviews and training to government agencies throughout the Southeast.

Beyond adding employees, SAFEBuilt may soon be expanding to offer planning services to municipalities. The nature of local government is changing, according to McCurdie, and budgets at the municipal level are still tight, despite the recovery.

In some cases, that’s meant more outsourcing to private industry by governments hoping to save money.

One city that has reaped the rewards of outsourcing is Troy, Mich. Troy’s building department is expected to save $1 million a year by contracting its entire building department to SAFEBuilt.

This initiative was helped along by legislation signed by Michigan’s governor earlier this year making it easier for municipalities to contract with companies like SAFEBuilt. Michigan also wanted to make it easier and faster for cities and towns to issue permits as the economy recovers.

Larger cities, such as Fort Collins, have employees who do the work McCurdie’s team offers. But for other, smaller cities and towns, bringing in a team of planners or inspectors only when necessary can save money.

Loveland, for example, also has its own staff to handle permitting, but contracted with SAFEBuilt when Centerra was being built.

In a situation like that, when 70 to 80 permits are being requested at once, and all of the entities requesting those permits want a quick turnaround time, adding outside help to a city’s staff can make a big difference, McCurdie said.

Now, with the redevelopment of the Foothills Mall in Fort Collins on the horizon, the possibility exists for the same type of opportunity.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR
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