Vegas’ Jack-of-all-Trades

Construction Today Quarterly, Spring 2006 -A range of expertise as given Las Vegas-based commercial contractor Tradewinds Construction a healthy business in Sin City’s booming commercial market.

Tradewinds Construction President Jeff Vilkin says that in a construction market as tight as Las Vegas, it pays to offer one-stop-shopping construction services. Coming into the market with a broad background in general contracting and reconstruction of historic buildings, with experience in many different trades, Vilkin has built Tradewinds into one of the leading commercial construction firms in Las Vegas, offering construction services in a number of different areas.

Vilkin says the company’s ability to offer multiple subcontracting services simplifies the process for general contractors by eliminating potential gray areas and quality control issues between different scopes of work. This ability has given Tradewinds Construction a strong presence in off-the-Strip commercial construction in the Las Vegas area.

Tradewinds Construction offers its general contacting clients the ability to handle commercial wood framing, panelized roof structures, metal stud framing, drywall, painting, acoustical ceilings and insulation, along with a few other specialties such as wall covering and paneling. Tradewinds also introduced a plumbing division two years ago to complement its other offerings and capitalize on Tradewinds’ existing relationships within the commercial construction community. This approach allows general contractors to limit their exposure by awarding multiple scopes under one contract to one “very reputable”subcontractor, Tradewinds Construction explains.

“It’s a unique kind of one-stop shopping,” Vilkin says. Vilkin came to Las Vegas in 1987 at the age of 29 from Telluride, Colo., where the self-described former “ski bum” made a living rehabbing old historic buildings as well as in new construction. Due to the extreme working conditions in the mining-town-turned-ski town, Vilkin gained broad experience in multiple trades because “we self-performed almost everything” on those buildings, which covered a large gamut of general subcontracting experience.

Vilkin says his experience in Colorado gave him a “broad educational background” in the construction business, which he took to Las Vegas.

After a brief sting performing general contracting work for a custom-home developer – performing everything from framing to cabinets – Vilkin says he was given the opportunity to work on a tenant-improvement project in a commercial building.

The project, which entailed the completion of a 12,000-square-foot warehouse and office facility, needed to be fully completed in two-and-a-half weeks.

“I didn’t know enough then to tell the client that it couldn’t be done,” Vilkin says, “so we just went out and did it.”

The work and the quick turnaround drew the attention of a commercial realtor, who referred Vilkin to more work completing tenant improvements for commercial buildings in the area. With commercial work offers pouring in, Vilkin turned his company’s focus exclusively to commercial work.

A Lengthy Resume

Today, Tradewinds operates five different construction divisions out of the 15,000-square-foot company owned office building that is centrally located in the heart of Las Vegas. The company has one subcontracting division devoted to metal stud framing, drywall, paint and acoustical ceilings, and another devoted solely to vertical wood framing.

A third contracting division constructs panelized roof structures on large commercial and industrial buildings, and a fourth offers plumbing services. Tradewinds also operates as a general contractor, offering design/build tenant improvement services, taking projects from the original space planning to construction completion, and also completes between three and six ground-up general contracting projects per year.

One area in which Tradewinds has been able to specialize, even as it covers many different fields, is erecting panelized roof structures.

In the past 15 years, Vilkin estimates, Tradewinds has completed approximately 40 percent of the panelized roof structures in Las Vegas.

The Roof Structure system, which is popular in the western United States because it is cost-effective for big-box projects, consists of many pre-fabricated sections with a steel frame and a wooden deck that are fabricated into sections on the ground and raised into place with a reach forklift.

Vilkin says the company began doing panelized roof structures in the early 1990’s when one of its first major customers requested the work be done on one of its buildings.

“A big part of Tradewinds’ success is due to the work of Vilkin’s partner, John Martin,” Vilkin says. “As the company’s general manager, Martin has designed the company’s operations so that every division of the company is serviced by just five accounting staff members,” Vilkin says. He says Martin’s business experience as a CPA and head of his own development company made him a perfect fit for Tradewinds when he joined the firm in 1997.

“It was a tailor-made match,” Vilkin says. “He keeps the business running, and I keep it fed.”

Foundation for the Future

Tradewinds’ revenues have risen steadily in the past several years, and Vilkin says he expects that trend to continue in the near future.

Because more than 80 percent of the land surrounding Las Vegas is owned by the federal government and auctioned off only sparingly, vertical development will be an ongoing trend for the coming years, Vilkin predicts.

He says that Tradewinds’ plumbing division has a wealth of experience in high-rise work, something that much of the competition in Las Vegas can’t claim.

Vilkin says he also expects the firm’s general contracting work to grow as developers become more ambitious with commercial properties and other contractors become glutted with work.

Still, Vilkin says the company will make a point not to bite off more than it can chew and risk hurting its reputation.

“The last thing we want to do is not be able to perform,” he says.

Vilkin says Tradewinds’ success comes from its ability to excel in a number of different fields, and the ability of its different departments to compensate for each other in tough times.

“When all the pistons are firing,” Vilkin says,”our financial performance is like a supercharged, 500-horsepower V-8, but even when one or two are misfiring, we still have a nice 300-horsepower V-8.”

Leslie Stafford

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