Richard Freeark | Courtesy C.W. Driver Companies

Shortage of Materials and Talent Plagues SoCal Construction

Carrie Rossenfeld People

Builder C.W. Driver Companies recently promoted Richard Freeark to COO. Freeark, who is based in the firm’s San Diego office, has spearheaded major projects in his 15 years with the firm, including the University of California, Irvine Alumni Center; Alpine Branch Library; Ramona Branch Library; Fallbrook Branch Library; Belmont Village’s Belmont Senior Living Westwood; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Steven Spielberg Building Wet Lab; Valley Presbyterian Hospital; Kaiser Medical Center Riverside; Qualcomm’s SAN.Q Addition; and Hollywood Casino Jamul. He also plays a key role on a host of higher education and K-12 projects across California. Prior to the COO role, Freeark served as SVP of the company.

We spoke with Freeark about his new role with the company and some construction trends he is noticing in Southern California.

SoCal Real Estate: What will your new role with C.W. Driver allow you to do?
Freeark: In my new role as COO, I will oversee operations and client satisfaction for C.W. Driver projects across California. I will also spearhead staffing and training, contract negotiations, and financial controls. I will be working with clients across the broad spectrum of industries we serve, which include education, commercial office, senior housing, hospitality, retail, life science, gaming, and more.
I’m especially looking forward to continuing the expansion of our internal training and mentorship programs. The C.W. Driver team has always felt like a family, with many generations working together and learning from each other in pursuit of project excellence. We hire people who love what they do, and our end product really shows that. Continuing to invest in our employees through forward-thinking educational and culture-building programs is one of my highest priorities in this new role.

How do you stay on top of so many projects at the same time?
Having a strong team in place is key. In my nearly four decades of experience in the construction industry, 15 of those with C.W. Driver Companies, I’ve learned the benefits of hiring good people and trusting them to do good work. The caliber of the team at C.W. Driver Companies is extremely high, which means I am able to oversee the operational and client relation aspects of each project while feeling assured that the day-to-day details are being taken care of by the project team.

Additionally, we’ve completed projects in so many different industries in our nearly 100-year history that we have seasoned experts in nearly every type of project and market. Our younger employees can rely on these seasoned veterans to guide the project, and I’m able to oversee a wide variety of projects at once with full confidence.

What are some of the construction trends you’re noticing in the Southern California market?
A shortage of resources, both materials and talent, is a trend both in Southern California and the nation as a whole. With materials, the already high cost in recent years has been exacerbated by the natural disasters in regions of Texas, Florida, California, and elsewhere. As far as talent, the strong economy and the construction industry’s continued growth has made it a very competitive market for employees, subcontractors, and other partners. Our strong reputation has helped lessen the effects of the industry-wide talent shortage, but we do still feel it — particularly as people retire.

More specific to Southern California, there has been a significant increase in the demand for K-12 and higher education projects. As the population continues to grow, new schools are needed to keep up with the growth and existing facilities are looking to modernize to keep up with the competition. Science, technology and health buildings are an important trend in education, as universities aim to attract and retain students in the fast-growing STEM fields. Civic projects are also expanding rapidly. We’ve seen many library projects come in as cities look to provide modern spaces where families can gather, students can learn, and communities can come together.

What else should our readers know about C.W. Driver?
The C.W. Driver team is very dedicated to our project work, but we’re also committed to giving back to the communities in which we work. Philanthropy is woven into the fabric of our firm, and we encourage our team to give back in a way that’s meaningful to them – whether it’s volunteer hours, a philanthropic leadership role or a monetary donation. As a company, we include a charitable component to every event we host, whether it’s raising money, donating leftover food, or providing nonprofits an opportunity to speak and gain exposure at our events. Personally, I’m passionate about giving back to Solutions for Change, an organization dedicated to solving family homelessness.