Will Gamble’s decades in the construction industry have provided JE Dunn Construction with 20 years of dedication and consummate professionalism. He has demonstrated an ability to thrive in circumstances demanding organization, adaptability, and leadership. His rise to Vice President included stints as a project engineer, estimator, senior estimator, and project manager. As the Nashville office’s Director of Preconstruction, Will oversees the process for competitive bids, requests for qualification/proposal responses, presentations, and negotiated proposals. Since moving to Nashville in 2013, Will has increased JE Dunn’s Nashville presence and helped the company capitalize on local commercial work. Some notable projects include Gulch Crossing, Element Music Row, and the Thompson Hotel.
Tell us about Nashville’s post-Covid market and what significant market changes your team has observed.
My response can be broken down into the following three categories: projects, manpower, and materials.
Projects: When much of the world came to a screeching halt in 2020, active construction projects had only a brief pause. For the most part, construction projects maintained their bustling pace as we have seen over more than five years here in Nashville.
Manpower: Manpower was a challenge prior to Covid-19 and has continued to be limited in Nashville with many specialized trades coming from all around the southeast to fulfill the needs in our growing city. The need for manpower has not reduced since Covid-19 and, if anything, continues to be strained in our market with year over year growth.
Materials: In the wake of 2020, 2021 has revealed both limited availability of materials and drastic escalating costs of those materials. Traditionally, every January we receive escalation letters from manufacturers. This year it proved out and then continued strongly monthly, even weekly, from some manufacturers through May. From lumber to bar joists, drywall mud to roof insulation, and even processor chips that make electronics go round, it seems a wide variety of products were affected by the shutdowns in 2020. The lack of production during 2020 went mostly unnoticed by consumers until the lag in production caught up with us!
Yearly escalation over the past five years has probably averaged in the 5% - 6% range in the Nashville market. In Q1-2021 we experienced the same level of escalation and increase from January to March. April and May continued with aggressive increases and trade partner proposals that had very short commitment times as opposed to a usual 60-90 day hold on pricing. June was an improvement in that there was a reduction in price increases. We were excited to “hear” the silence!
We have worked with our Trade Partners (subcontractors) and Owners to navigate the shortages. We are also having to find creative ways to buy out projects. Early procurement and storage are some of those creative routes, but Ownership and lenders must be on board with early payments in the construction process. This early procurement will also lead to storage costs and double handling of the materials. Another solution we have explored is allowances for escalation, but I personally feel those will be very difficult to manage without true open-book processes with everyone involved.
We’re optimistic that Q3 and Q4 of 2021 will return product availability and reduces/ eliminate the extreme escalation that we have recognized over the first half of 2021.
Covid has highlighted the importance of businesses supporting the communities they operate within. How is JE Dunn remaining involved in Nashville’s growing community post-pandemic?
At JE Dunn, our goal is to enrich lives through corporate and employee engagement in the communities where we live, work, and build. In 2020, we launched a national Community Impact Initiative and selected ambassadors from each office. Locally, we turned that into a Community Impact Committee, comprised of various roles across the office.
There are several layers to how JE Dunn gives back to the community in the Nashville area. The two main organizations our office supports are Our Kids and the Boys & Girls Club of Middle TN. In addition to volunteer events, we provide fundraising for their respective organizations and our expertise to help them maintain their facilities, which are vital to serving disadvantaged youth.
Outside of these charities, our office participates in various volunteer opportunities brought forward by our employees with organizations they are passionate about such as Habitat for Humanity, American Heart Association, Best Buddies, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Community Resource Center, and many more.
What is your outlook on Nashville’s commercial real estate market? Please share what you envision Nashville to look like in the next five years.
With the entry of Amazon and Oracle, I envision an exciting continuation of growth in downtown Nashville and surrounding areas. As I think about it, my mind rattles off the following thoughts:
Downtown continues to boom!
Southwest Value Partners' transformation of the Lifeway Campus and the introduction of Amazon will lead to more growth and infill.
The residential building explosion in the south Gulch is incredible.
West End is having its own growth from 440 to 40 including healthcare work, higher-education work, and commercial real estate.
River North and the future state of Oracle will create even more growth, infill, and excitement.
Germantown continues to change and grow with large-scale mixed-use developments similar to New City Properties’ transformation of the Neuhoff site.
The South of town is rapidly changing in the Wedgewood/Houston area with the new soccer stadium, speedway upgrades, office, and residential growth.
The above list is not exhaustive of the growth around town, but I would say that in five years, we’ll have a huge growth of people living, working, and playing in pockets around town and in developments that we can’t envision just yet! Exciting times for Nashville’s commercial real estate market if you ask me.
Nashville’s rate of development has proven resilient despite the pandemic. What excites you about Nashville’s future as we move back into a state of normalcy?
Nashville and Middle Tennessee have done a great job moving back to a state of normalcy, but we need to fully engage the arts, entertainment, sporting events, and retail destinations in our city. Get out to dinner and a show. Resume shopping at local retailers. Enjoy a sporting event or a live music event. Resuming all of these activities is what will truly bring back our full economy and support all of the workers and families in our region. This will help us maintain the growth and trajectory that Nashville has known for more than the last five years.
JE Dunn Construction is a domestic general building contractor in the United States with offices in 24 locations. Their vision is to be an indispensable business partner for their clients by first understanding their purpose, goals, and customers and then delivering transformational solutions with certainty of results. Named one of Nashville’s Best Places to Work and Top General contractors in 2021 by the NBJ, JE Dunn continues to shape Nashville’s skyline and local communities through its culture of service. To learn more visit https://www.jedunn.com/
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