Coronavirus Stories – Miles Construction – horticulture construction leader implements COVID 19 protocols

According to Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation (DETR), Nevada’s construction industry plays a vital economic role in the state’s economy. 

Since the Great Recession, the construction industry has rebounded to become one of the state’s most durable industries and economic engines. The industry has sustained strong economic growth at approximately 10 percent per annum, and provided jobs for 100,000 men and women, at above-average wages, in one of the nation’s fastest-growing states.  

As of January 2020, the construction industry’s growth projections for 2020 and 2021 continued to be bright for commercial, residential and industrial builders. Then came COVID 19.

Over the past week, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has issued several emergency directives requiring social distancing protocols and closing all nonessential businesses statewide. These actions slowed Nevada’s economy to a halt. 

Governor Sisolak has deemed Nevada’s construction businesses as essential and may continue operations but must adopt policies and practices that ensure minimum contact between the workforce and the general public.

In its March 18, 2020 memo, the Nevada Department of Business and Industry ordered the construction trades to comply with any applicable COVID-19 risk mitigation procedures.  

In a phone interview today, Cary Richardson, vice president at Miles Construction said, “We are open for business, we have everybody working.” 

Miles Construction is a commercial general contractor, located in northern Nevada and is working projects throughout the west. Richardson explained how Miles Construction is addressing its responsibilities to ensure a healthy, safe work environment. “Nothing overly unique.

“When it comes to construction versus the other industries that are open, we are taking similar steps. Project managers are set up to work remotely. We have encouraged everybody who needs to, to work remotely.” 

Richardson has reduced staff onsite and closed the office to the public.

“Nearly all of our meetings now are online, as are virtual job tours and things of that nature.”  

His job sites pose unique issues. He has required that less than 10 people congregate in any one area and practice social distancing.

“We keep a close eye on not only our crew sizes but when we get multiple trades in one area, we keep the six-foot distance to reduce the number of people. 

“We changed up the way in which we hold our tailgate meetings. We don’t round everybody up around the tailgate in close quarters and talk about the day. Instead, we talk about safety and how we have to go about it. 

“We go through a lot of sanitizers, whether cleaning doorknobs or work surfaces or tools. We are doing a lot of the same things that everybody else is doing to survive.”

Miles Construction was founded 30 years ago by Bill Miles, who remains an active owner in the company.

“We consider ourselves a medium-sized contractor with the horsepower for larger projects,” said Richardson. “We don’t have the bureaucracy. We are nimble enough to work on larger, more sophisticated projects such as a $30 million project. We do small enough projects too, to take care of our relationships.” 

Miles Construction employs approximately 30 full-time workers. Primarily a management company, Miles currently has about a dozen projects under construction between Nevada and California. They focus on general construction projects including historic preservation and horticulture. They are a state leader in cannabis facility construction.

Richardson explained, “We’ve done a lot of work in advanced manufacturing and when cannabis started off, it really lent itself to taking the advanced manufacturing experience and going into that new industry. We were one of the first groups to join that industry, the entire movement, looking at it as an opportunity to help change the world. It’s really exciting.

“When you see the birth of a new industry, that does not happen often,” said Richardson. “Particularly on both the cultivation and the production side, where you’re using volatile solvents on the production side that require specific building requirements and types.”

Cannabis facility science is sophisticated and evolving. Building grow facilities was a challenge for Richardson.

“It was very challenging at the beginning because the jurisdictions had never seen this before. There was no precedent. Our learning curve included getting these types of projects through entitlements.“

Learning about and building cutting-edge cannabis grow facilities helped expand Miles Construction’s business in foundational ways.

“This move has lent itself to forming relationships with international suppliers. And we’re now really focusing on glasshouses or greenhouses for the cultivation side. 

“We’ve become immersed in that industry, spending some time globally. We will see what’s coming around the corner.”

Richardson is especially excited about the potential for indoor farming.

“We have the ability to put up these glasshouses immediately outside of large urban areas so that you can get that perfect tomato organically grown with 90% less water and virtually no pesticides delivered to your table, the same day with minimal transportation. We’re really enjoying the cannabis (horticulture) industry and consider ourselves one of the leaders in that industry.”

However, after a period of intense capital investment, the number of new cannabis infrastructure projects has dwindled. 

“The cannabis business people are focusing now on making some money rather than trying to take over the world. Once they get some money back in their coffers, we’ll be back with them on other projects.

“But we do have several cannabis projects going in both California and Nevada,” said Richardson. “We do a lot in hemp as well. We have a large hemp facility that we’ve been working on, which is primarily a glasshouse for raised seedlings. 

“We like hemp and we like indoor farming. So we’re hopeful that starting off on the path that cannabis is leading us to are some really exciting destinations. It’s a lot of fun and keeps us energized.

A Miles Construction Greenhouse under construction, image provided by Miles Construction

As for the immediate future of Nevada’s construction industry, after the coronavirus epidemic runs its course, Richardson said, “We require a long support chain, and if too many links drop out of that chain, it’s going to be more difficult for us to operate in the short term. 

“But our supply chain is functioning well. Some projects are on hold, others are going forward.  He noted, “Our local government inspectors have risen to the occasion. They are on the job too, which would stop projects if they weren’t.”  

Richardson believes once the crisis subsides, the economy will come to life and grow even more.

“Money will be cheap and investment will seek out good projects. The economy will stabilize and business will resume with vigor. We learned a lot in the last recession. Those lessons learned have better prepared us for this one.”