Business View Magazine interviews Kevin Koppang, General Manager of Comstock Construction, for our focus on the Precast Construction Sector
Comstock Construction is a fourth-generation, family-owned general contracting company based in North Dakota and one of its top commercial construction companies. Their core markets in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota include the commercial, education, government, healthcare, housing, religious, retail, and sports and recreation sectors. Located in Wahpeton, North Dakota, the 96-year-old company undertakes large, negotiated work and competitive bid projects in the area.
Comstock Construction’s storied background has solidified its position and image as a trusted construction and general contracting company. Currently led by Michael Comstock, a fourth-generation founder, its organic growth over its close to a century of existence has allowed it to take on larger and more ambitious projects in the trio of states it services. “Comstock Construction provides a full range of preconstruction, construction, sustainable, and development services,” says Jason Flack, Director of Pre-Construction. With roots in the general contracting business, general contracting is the company’s core service and it offers other services extending to adjacent service areas like construction management, design-build, and project planning and development. As a full-service commercial construction company, Comstock Construction undertakes jobs in most industrial sectors.
More recently, the company has positioned itself to offer value-added facility management services to its clients. Kevin Koppang, Comstock Construction’s General Manager, explains. “Having completed multiple projects, we saw an opportunity to offer our clients additional value through facility management services. For example, through an ongoing facility management agreement with a client, we fix things like leaking roofs and broken doors. We also assist with long-term upgrade planning, saving the client time and money as they do not have to look for a general contractor every time they need such work done.”
Comstock Construction was founded in 1924 by Clark Morrell Comstock. In the begining, the company provided barn straightening and small residential services, which amounted to general contracting work at the time. By the second and third generations from 1945 to 1972, which saw the company leadership transition to Lynn Comstock and Robert (Bob) Comstock, respectively, the company was undertaking more commercial projects in the region , laying the foundation for Comstock Construction, Inc., a commercial construction company registered in 1976.
Today, Comstock Construction has three locations – company headquarters in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where the company originated, an office in Fergus Falls, Minnesota opened in 2000, and another in Fargo, North Dakota, opened in 2005. “Our company’s core values are that we are dedicated, we are team players, and we value reputation, and we do the right thing,” says Flack, “values that have guided the company’s growth for four generations. From its humble beginnings, the company has grown tremendously to employ over 100 full-time employees (superintendents, project managers, civil and industrial estimators, a safety manager and skilled craftsman), while working with dozens of subcontractors and partners who in turn employ hundreds more.”
“We consider our people our greatest asset,” adds Kevin Koppang, “a factor that has helped us retain up to 50 percent of our workforce for over 10 years.” The company’s strong ties to the local construction ecosystem of subcontractors, engineers, and architects also provides a robust foundation built on mutual trust and benefit, something Koppang believes has significantly contributed to the company’s success.
The firm undertakes both negotiated work contracts and competitive bid projects. According to Flack, “Our advantage in the competitive market comes from our long-standing relationship with trade partners or subcontractors and suppliers throughout the region, who we’ve had decades of experience and past relationships with.” Comstock Construction’s various industry certifications and affiliations underpin this competitive advantage at a grassroots level. The company’s credentials include Certified Precast Erector, Authorized Nucor Builder, and Authorized Behlen Builder, while its affiliations include the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., North Dakota Safety Council, and the Tri-State Safety Association. Comstock Construction also contributes to the local education sector as an advisory committee member at regional colleges.
Several notable projects in North Dakota and Minnesota take high profile on the company’s portfolio. First Care Health Outpatient Addition in Park River, ND, Unity Medical Additon and Remodel in Grafton, ND, Edwin Loe Elementary School in New Town, ND, New Town Middle School Addition in New Town, ND, Bottineau County Jail Expansion, Bottineau, ND, Wahpeton Elementary School and Middle School Remodel in Wahpeton, ND, North Dakota Hertitage Center Expansion, Bismarck, ND, Burleigh Morton County Jail in Bismarck, ND, Fergus Falls Public Library in Fergus Falls, MN, Lifecare Medical Center Additions and Remodels in Roseau, MN and Sisseton Middle School Addition in Sisseton, SD. “We treat every project as an audition for the next project,” says Flack, “so our central focus is always to maintain this outlook and help our clients complete their projects in a way that makes them happy. That way, they can walk away feeling great at the end.”
Like other companies in the construction industry, Comstock Construction experiences the challenge of finding a quality workforce. The company solves this challenge in a two-pronged manner. Flack recounts, “Our first approach is maintaining a high retention rate for existing employees by promoting and exemplifying our core values. We hire employees around those core values and try to live those core values every day. We are a fairly large company, but also kind of a small family-owned company, too. The owners are actively involved – they’re right down the hallway from us, so although it’s a large company, we do have a small feel to us. Because of this, although we struggle like everyone else to find quality workers, once we get them, we keep them for a long time.”
“The second approach we use is maintaining a relationship with trade schools in the area,” he continues. “They’ve got great programs for the skilled trades, and we are in constant contact with them. We speak to their classes, work with them, help them improve their curriculum if they ask, and try to take on some students that come to the program as well. We also support internship programs provided by local technical schools.”
With the pandemic affecting businesses across the economy, Comstock Construction has managed to weather the worst of these effects by adapting protocols required to continue working and keeping workers safe, while also complying with the safety standards that owners are looking for and expecting. Koppang explains, “Although several projects were canceled and others stalled at the beginning of the pandemic, we have since resumed some projects with new projects also in the pipeline.”
Looking forward, as the company approaches a century of doing business, Comstock Construction is eyeing organic growth, especially in the facilities management area it is now entering. “Facility services are a great opportunity for us to work with some owners we’ve built buildings for and continue that relationship,” says Koppang. “It’s a major priority for us right now and a tremendous opportunity for growth as well.”
Despite angling for growth, the company does not want growth for growth’s sake. “We aren’t heavily focused on just chasing the top line,” Koppang avers, “we want it to be the right work as well. To work with the right people and maintain controlled growth because it leads to less of the ebbs and flows that can sometimes otherwise happen. So strategic growth is what we are more focused on.”