Suite Life Magazine Feature May 2, 2022
At six years old, Waltbillig & Hood is a relatively new construction company in a region flush with generations of old firms. Yet, the Naples-based company already has earned a reputation as one of Southwest Florida’s leading general contractors.
Waltbillig & Hood has built an impressive project portfolio with a list of clients that reads like a Who’s Who of the area’s major players, including medical manufacturing giant Arthrex, hospital operator NCH Healthcare System and residential community builder Taylor Morrison.
The company’s meteoric rise can be traced to groundwork laid in 2016 by its founders, Jay Waltbillig and Brian Hood. The duo are veterans of the region’s commercial and health care construction industry. Each successfully helped to guide their previous employer through the Great Recession before leaving to pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavor in the subsequent economic recovery.
Waltbillig was raised in Naples and Hood has been here for the better part of 20 years. The pair attribute a lot of their firm’s early success to their being so well-connected to the tight-knit Southwest Florida community.
“It’s a place where a lot of business is done based on local relationships and past experiences, and where business owners place a premium on integrity and performance,” says Hood.
Together, they built the company by relying on their business acumen, spotless reputations and personal savings, which allowed them to avoid debt.
“It was important to us that our company be financially stable to attract our clients and the best employees possible. So, we made some sacrifices and strategic moves early on that allowed that to happen quickly and we did it without any investors,” Waltbillig notes.
The result speaks for itself. Today, about 70% of Waltbillig & Hood’s business comes from repeat clients, a testament to the consistent quality and timeliness of the firm’s work.
“What I like about Waltbillig & Hood is I can call Brian or Jay any time and get an answer for what I need. They and their team are always professional,” says Jonathan Kling, chief operations officer for NCH Healthcare System in Naples. “They have been very good stewards of our resources.”
Duke Kassolis, a longtime Naples real estate investor and developer who builds shops and apartments, and owns the Tide Cleaners franchises in South Florida, says Waltbillig & Hood is one of his go-to construction firms.
“They do all of our work on the west coast of Florida,” he says.
Like NCH, Kassolis is a repeat customer. The latest project Waltbillig & Hood is building for Kassolis is a four-story, 101-unit apartment complex near the Marco Island Executive Airport.
“I’m at a point in my life where I only do deals I want to do and work with people I want to work with,” Kassolis says. “They’re very honest and very straightforward. They bring the jobs on time and on budget, and they’re good people.”
Newly established construction companies typically start out tackling small jobs, eventually working their way to larger projects as they develop a reputation.
Not Waltbillig & Hood.
Within its first two years, three significant, high-profile projects immediately propelled the contractor to success:
NCH Healthcare Bonita, an outpatient facility and freestanding emergency department in Bonita Springs;
Heritage Oaks, an assisted living, memory care and respite center in Englewood; and
Terracina Grand, a 30-bed skilled nursing center in Naples.
NCH Healthcare Bonita was particularly noteworthy. The $35 million project was not only a large undertaking, but it had to be completed with precision and speed to meet a tight deadline with a publicly announced grand opening celebration of the emergency department in December 2018.NCH selected Waltbillig & Hood based on their own experiences with the founders and on their reputations as experts in the complexities of health care construction, even though the firm itself was young.
“They’re one of the few qualified general contractors in the area,” says NCH’s Kling.
Medical construction requires a high degree of specialization, expertise and experience. Contractors must follow stringent protocols to ensure the safety of patients and staff, and government regulators will not grant a certificate of occupancy until every checklist item is completed to their satisfaction.
“Any general contractor has to have extensive operational relationships and experience with regulators, and be able to have those discussions with engineers and architects,” Kling explains.
The successful, on-time completion of NCH Healthcare Bonita led to other projects, including the renovation of The NCH Birthplace, a 48-bed labor and delivery unit in north Naples. The maternity center remained open during construction, which required extensive planning so deliveries could continue safely and smoothly.
“They are partners at the beginning of a project, and that’s really valuable,” notes Kling. “They are flexible with our needs; sometimes the staging can be very complex.”
WORKING WITH TALENT
Clients say what distinguishes Waltbillig & Hood is the company’s talented team of employees, which was assembled without the use of a recruiting firm. Instead, the company relied on its reputation and leadership to attract the most qualified people.
“They have a very talented team and they lead them in a very professional way,” says Kassolis.
Sometimes general contractors that rely on subcontractors can experience mixed results. Kassolis, though, credits Waltbillig & Hood’s strong relationships with subcontractors as a critical component of the company’s success. Waltbillig & Hood attracts the region’s top subcontractors for two primary reasons: subcontractors know work schedules will be dependable; and the pay is reliable.
“They want us to do well,” Waltbillig says. “Subs want to work with contractors they trust and who make sure they’re successful. They don’t want delays on schedules and pay.”
Today’s tight labor market and supply disruptions make those strong business-to-business relationships even more valuable.
“This market has really shifted this past year, so scheduling is critical for success,” says Waltbillig. “Our business is really dealing with people. It’s all how you communicate.”
Southwest Florida’s residential and commercial growth shows no signs of slowing. When the residential population booms, the region needs more health care providers, shopping centers and other commercial enterprises. Waltbillig & Hood is prepared to handle the growth.
“The overwhelmingly enthusiastic market reception we received since we started the company allowed us to significantly reinvest in our team, keep our prices competitive and boost back-office resources to support our projects,” explains Hood. “We’ve also found ourselves being more intentional about what projects we take on, go after and for whom. Jay and I want to provide good experiences for our clients and for everyone else involved. That’s hard to accomplish if we’ve overloaded ourselves as a company. It’s just not in the best interest of the client or our employees.”
“We’ve planned for it and we’re going to see another significant increase to our volume in 2022,” adds Waltbillig. “Our momentum going into 2023 looks very good as well.”
With a team of close to 40 that’s made up of construction managers, field supervisors and support staff, the company is well positioned to handle additional work. About 50% of the firm’s revenue is tied to health care, and new projects in the pipeline include a second rehabilitation hospital, surgery center, laboratories and other acute care projects.
Health care providers often seek out local general contractors. That benefits firms such as Waltbillig & Hood.
“We are a community health care system and want to work with vendors in the community,” says NCH’s Kling.
Beyond health care, Waltbillig & Hood has the expertise to build all types of commercial structures, from automotive dealerships and self-storage facilities to zoo improvements, community amenity buildings and office buildings. Plus, the company has a bonding program in excess of $100 million, evidence that Waltbillig & Hood is well-capitalized and has effective quality controls and skilled management.
“It demonstrates our low risk factor and financial strength,” Waltbillig says.
The company is expanding into another booming sector in Southwest Florida – construction of apartment communities. It just signed a construction management agreement to build 255 units in Fort Myers and is in the process of preconstruction for a similar multi-unit development in Bonita Springs.
Waltbillig & Hood has become an undeniably established firm in the past six years and is looking forward to the controlled growth of both the company and Southwest Florida.
“We’re well-positioned, and we have the experience and the knowledge.” says Waltbillig.