BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
There are not many businesses that prosper in Guam and are then able to export their skills to elsewhere in the U.S.
RIM Architects is one of them, with offices in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska and California.
Incoming CEO David L. McVeigh, who is based in Anchorage in Alaska, was in Guam from 1988 to 2000, and at the forefront of the group’s development. He moved to Hawaii from Guam.
“We started the company in 1986 and I was one of the original hires.” The company did business under other names initially. “It was pretty much all the same people,” he said.
RIM made its mark the construction field McVeigh said. “We ended up embracing the design-build industry and always have been very supportive of the contracting community.” RIM had early experience in processes such as pre-cast. “We were able to come in and be creative on solving particular building challenges with budgets and what-not,” he said.
Of RIM’s expansion, he said, “We started things backward. We came from the smaller locations and moved into the mainland. … We like to think it was neat that we started in places like Anchorage and Guam and were able to build what we have today from those bases. The federal government was a big part of that.”
McVeigh typically visits Guam about four times a year.
The Guam office has always had a lot of resort work, he said. “We’ve probably touched most of the hotels on Tumon Bay.” Most recently, RIM was the Guam Partner of Record for the Tsubaki Tower and heavily involved. “We worked with the architect [in Japan] to do all the design drawings and the construction administration, and to get it permitted.” McVeigh said. “It’s a beautiful building and a great first-class addition to Guam’s inventory,” he said.
Of the hospitality industry, he said, “If you’ve got the capital, it’s a good time to be renovating, because you don’t have the business disruption. You’re business is already disrupted and you don’t have as many guests in the hotel.”
As to RIM’s entry to Alaska, he said the contracting industry has grown in numbers. “There weren’t a whole lot when we started, a lot of companies have come since then, particularly over the last 10 years.”
The group has not been immune to the downturn in the economies where it does business, but McVeigh told the Journal its classification can alleviate that.
“Working for the military or on military projects does qualify us as an essential business, so in most of the … work from home situations we’re immune to that,” he said.
In addition, the group is able to move tasks between offices.
“Because Rim is in multiple locations, just by the nature of our business, we have the ability to work long distance using technology, because we share work between offices as a kind of an economic balancer,” McVeigh said.
Such sharing has other advantages. “It helps us with our resource management and keeping out of the ‘hire and fire’ cycle,” he said.
RIM has about 70 personnel in its five locations. In Guam — where Brent L. Wiese is the managing principal — all staff have been with RIM for more than a decade. Close to 40% of its total staff have been with RIM for more than a decade. “We’ve been really fortunate to have staff that believe in us, that like our culture, our work environment; they stay with us quite a while — particularly in Guam.”
“It also gives our people and our staff to work on projects in other locations that they might not get the opportunity to do if they were working for a firm that is located in that one location,” McVeigh said. Staff are also able to work on different types of buildings, giving them wide experience.
As the pandemic set in, he said, “That helped prepare us for when we had to work at home and everybody had to mobilize at home and start working there. We had the technology set up and we didn’t have any down time.”
Nevertheless, he said, the architectural industry had been affected by COVID-19. One of our offices — in California — specializes in entertainment and hospitality. It’s a smaller office but they had to start working for the other offices, because their clients stopped projects.”
RIM’s professional diversity has also helped it, McVeigh said.
Federal work averages between 20% to 60% a year. RIM expects federal work increase with the current military buildup in Guam. “A good part of that is DoD,” McVeigh said. The delay in military work, he said “has had some effect on us. In Guam, the program to relocate the Marines is taking a very long time and is drawn out.”
Commercial work is about 65% of RIM’s current business of which about 30% is in hospitality. Residential projects range from 10% to 15%.
McVeigh says, “We’ve done some very nice historical projects that are in the Crater Lake National Park or Mt. Ranier; in Honlulu we’ve done some great work over there; and in San Francisco one of our neatest most current project is … the Bay Area Rapid Transit headquarters is relocating to Oakland, and we’re doing their design.”
In general, he said, “Healthcare is a good sector for us.”
Top projects include the $44 million design-build MACC task order awarded in early August to the Black Construction Corp.-Tutor Perini joint venture for ordnance facilities at Naval Base Guam; the $180 million Tsubaki Tower in Tumon in Guam, for which RIM was the Architect of Record; and Isa Villas affordable housing on Capitol Hill in Saipan.
Other work in the Mariana Islands are school retrofits and additions in Saipan and two projects in Guam and one in Saipan for the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints.
In Hawaii, major projects include the $13 million University of Hawaii at Manoa Ho’ola Clinical Trial Center improvement, due to complete by 2022 and concept design for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District aviation operations facility.
McVeigh said there are sometimes misconceptions as to which projects RIM takes on. “They see our portfolio and they think that all we do is very high-end and large projects.”
RIM does not take on a lot of custom residential work. “A lot of us enjoy doing it individually, but as a company they’re a little harder to do. They’re very labor intensive which is part of the reason I like them,” he said. RIM has done design work at Talo Verde Estates in Guam.
The group has also acted for off-island companies who are not familiar with Guam. “You can’t undervalue the importance of having boots on the ground, particularly in places like Guam where anything from logistics to the design environment itself – when you get companies that are from somewhere else — they don’t always understand that it’s the little things that make a big difference. Some of the difference is cultural, he said. “Some of it is the way the entitlements work and development works. … It’s always wise if they hook up with somebody local.”
One of McVeigh’s most memorable projects was an additional development for the Dai-Ichi Hotel in Tumon. “Across the street they did a lower density type hotel, I think they called it the Dai-Ichi Villas [now the Garden Villa Hotel]. RIM was given the total budget to manage … managing the design, selecting the contractor, getting it built into this budget, which was a narrow, tight budget.” Acting effectively as owner’s representative, McVeigh said the experience was a personal one for him. “We got to touch deeply into some areas we don’t normally get to be part of. … We had a very trusting owner and a good client.”
McVeigh said he is proud of his time in Guam. “I feel it had a lot to do with where I am today. I’ve had great partners and people that believe in me and the vision that not only our founder had [Larry S. Cash], but the vision that I continue to carry. Guam was a big part of that and a big part of my professional development.” mbj