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Construction Institute Adds Branches To Knowledge Tree

By Brad Kane

May 24, 2010

The Construction Institute, the 35-year-old industry non-profit operating out of the University of Hartford, is expanding its mantra of collaboration and education this fall into Fairfield County and then beyond via the Internet.These are the baby steps for the Construction Institute on its way to eventually setting up branches and offices throughout the country, creating a knowledge network to improve the construction industry through enhanced cohesiveness and knowledge, said executive director William Cianci.

“You’ve got to jump in the pool and start swimming,” Cianci said. “The growth is going to come from expanding geographically.”

The Construction Institute was founded in 1975 during a down time for the construction industry and began as a way for the various construction businesses to interact and learn about potential jobs.

Today, the institute encompasses nearly 300 members including architects, engineers, owners, facility managers, contractors, subcontractors, labor groups, government agencies, manufacturers, distributors, and support and service businesses. It puts on more than 50 educational workshops each year as well as several general industry events where all the business sector representatives can network.

“When we have a project that comes up, we have to get people together quickly,” said Joseph Greenier, director of engineering for St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, and the chairman of the Construction Institute’s Board of Directors. “When you have a group of firms you already know … You pick up the phone and say, ‘I need help.’”

The Construction Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit run out of the University of Hartford and is loosely associated with the university. The organization has six employees and is run by a board of volunteers from the construction industry. It is entirely self-supporting, using members of the construction community to lead its workshops, which range from $65 to $425 per person.

Because all the Construction Institute gatherings are neutral ground, they give various construction leaders a chance to interact without anything seeming underhanded, said Tony Amenta, president of Amenta/Emma Architects in Hartford.

“It gives the opportunity to be in a forum where you have the entire food chain in one room,” Amenta said. “It really helps to develop relationships with that food chain.”

This type of collaboration among the various sectors of the construction industry puts the institute at the forefront of a movement to tie everyone’s profits into how well they work together on a project, Cianci said. As one of the biggest industries in the state and the nation, construction has almost no unity at all with multiple trade associations working against one another.

“There is more and more protectionism going on than collaboration and it seems to be getting worse,” Amenta said.

Disputes are common, said David Rosengren, who specializes in construction law and construction litigation as a partner in McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter. Owners and contractors dispute over contracts, for example, when construction doesn’t go as planned.

While there will always be a certain level of dispute, the Construction Institute gets people in the mindset that they can work better together to create a more economic product, said Rosengren, who is a member of the Construction Institute’s Board of Directors.

“The biggest benefit is the educational programs. That is the core of what we do,” Rosengren said.

The Construction Institute professional development workshops range from infection control risk management to financial management of facilities to Connecticut building codes. The 25 or more put on each fall and spring semester create a smarter, more skilled construction workforce in New England, Rosengren said.

“People want what we have, but they can’t travel long distances to come to these things,” Cianci said.

Construction Institute members primarily come from Connecticut, but firms in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island also are in the mix. As a result, the institute wants to set up chapters with other colleges or universities throughout the Northeast.

Since one-third of Construction Institute programs are held in Fairfield County, that is the first place for expansion. Although a task force still is deciding whether to set up a branch office of the University of Hartford or align with another institution, a program will be up and running with the fall semester workshops, Cianci said.

Next fall will bring the Construction Institute’s first Webinars; its way of bypassing the time and space problems of expansion. Workshops will be available through the institute’s Web site, possibly in real time, and/or through a series of recorded videos.

Beyond the fall, the expansion task force has prioritized setting up locations in Boston and New York. The institute doesn’t have a timeline for the launch of those offices, and many questions remain over how to carry out the expansion, Cianci said. The Fairfield County expansion should provide some answers.

“We want to do it right, and we want to better understand how to do it,” Cianci said.

To pay for the expansion, the Construction Institute will need new sources of funding, perhaps corporate sponsorships or grants, Cianci said. Moving into new territory will yield new members and more people for the workshops.

The long-term goal creates multiple Construction Institute offices throughout the United States, each with its own network of construction industry leaders. Then the benefit, Cianci said, will come from not only collaborating among the various business sectors, but geographically as well. A Miami solution could work in New York, Boston and so on.

“Our eventual goal is a knowledge network,” Cianci said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
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