The 2008 Delaware Contractors Association (DCA) president is Larry Kuhn. A resident of Wilmington, he is devoted to his family. His wife serves as the chief judge for the Family Court of the state of Delaware, and they have two teenage daughters.
“We both have very hectic schedules, but spend a great deal of time with our daughters,” Kuhn said. “Most of that time is spent traveling with the girls following their school and club volleyball teams. Both are great volleyball players.”
A Family Business
Kuhn noted that he has worked for Kuhn Construction for almost his entire life, since his father started the company in 1962, the year he was born.
“My mother worked alongside of my father up until her death in 1984,” he said. “He bid the work and oversaw the construction end. She handled all of the finances and kept him focused. They were a great pair and worked well together.”
From the summer before his ninth grade year until his graduation from Hamilton College, Kuhn worked for the company during summers and vacations.
“My dad could always find something for me to do, even on weekends, when I didn’t have a sporting event,” he said.
“My father is 81, and is still in the office every day at 6 a.m.”
Kuhn was able to join the company full-time in 1984 after he graduated from college. He is the youngest of three sons, and they all are involved with the company. Bill serves as president, Larry is one vice president, and Rick is the other vice president. Rick also is in charge of field operations. Even at the age of 81, their father remains active as well.
Inherent within a family business are the issues involved with working with other family members, and the Kuhns are no different.
“I must admit that this is the most challenging, but also hands down the most rewarding part of my job,” Kuhn said. “I work alongside my brothers 40 to 60 hours a week, and we can disagree the whole time about what we are doing, but ultimately respect one another’s opinion. At the end of every week, Dad has us over for Sunday dinner. You would think we hadn’t seen one another in two years. It’s great because those dinners are about the kids and the grandchildren. We’ve been doing this for 25 years, and it amazes me how we are able to set aside the family business while we are together and concentrate on what is really important.”
Small Company Doing Big Projects
Kuhn Construction is a mid-sized heavy/highway/marine construction firm.
“We specialize in projects that other companies shy away from,” Kuhn said. “My father steered the company in a direction that would keep it focused on a few large projects rather than having the company spread throughout the region on a lot of small projects. This has worked well with our management style. One of the three of us is directly involved with every project we do. We have been able to do the large projects, but still maintain that we are a small company.”
In fact, Kuhn Construction is one of the few companies in Delaware that performs marine work. It also performs structural concrete, site work, and a lot of deep foundation work.
“This diversity enables our company to do well as the construction climate in Delaware changes,” Kuhn explained. “If the private subdivision work dries up, we jump over into the highway bridge market. Even in times of slow economic growth, there is usually one sector of construction that is doing well.”
Major projects the company has worked on include the Indian River Inlet Marina reconstruction for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources at a cost of $18 million, the Indian River Inlet Bridge approaches for the Delaware Department of Transportation at a cost of $34 million, the Autoberth for the Diamond State Port Corporation at a cost of $12 million, and Waterfarm No. 1 for New Castle County at a cost of $10 million.
Kuhn noted that most of the company’s projects involve big challenges, from issues with particular construction processes to scheduling problems.
“It has always been very rewarding confronting those challenges and coming out on the winning side,” Kuhn said. “We are all very competitive.”
He feels that construction is a great industry, and he enjoys not being tied to the office.
“Every day is a new day with a different problem to solve, and if you complete your projects quickly, you never get tired of the scenery,” he said.
Throughout his career, Kuhn also has been involved with the DCA. When he started, he saw the organization as a great resource for getting to know other people in the industry.
“I’ll never forget the first meeting I attended at DCA,” he said. “I walked into a DCA DelDot Liaison Committee Meeting thinking that I was going to shock everyone with the issues that we [Kuhn Construction] were having on our projects. It only took about five minutes, but I quickly realized everyone else had the same issues.”
When Kuhn realized that everyone in the industry faced the same problems, he also realized that the industry could solve the problems together a lot faster than as individual companies.
“That’s where it all started, and to this day that is what DCA means to me: people working together for the good of the industry,” he said. “We may compete against one another on projects every day of the week, but when we sit down as partners in the industry, we become a pretty powerful group. We can actually shape the future of the construction industry for the good of all.”
Kuhn also is impressed with the DCA staff, which he describes as “incredible.” He noted that they are able to help solve any problem, whether it be safety, management, public policy, or anything else related to the industry.
“DCA is the industry leader in this region,” he said. “They are involved in every aspect of the construction industry, including public policy, safety, company efficiency and social networking.”
Kuhn will serve as president until December, and noted that he has one goal for his term — to bring to the organization what the members want.
“Each year, DCA does extensive strategic planning,” he said. “Anyone can attend those planning sessions. You do not have to be a board member or a committee chair. It is at those meetings where we as an organization set our goals for the future of DCA. It is my job to ensure that we meet those goals. As John McMahon [DCA executive vice president] says to me all the time, ’DCA is a member-driven organization.’”
One concern that Kuhn has for the future is that public policy has been set in New Castle County that limits competition in the construction industry.
“This worries me greatly because it is not good for the industry, nor is it good for the people we service, the taxpayers,” he said. “Limited competition means higher construction costs. I don’t think that is good for anyone. I am concerned that this trend may grow. The bottom line is healthy competition promotes a healthy economy.”
Kuhn said that he is particularly excited about one DCA goal that involves the expansion of the organization into Kent and Sussex counties. In the past, DCA has not had many contractor members or much participation in those two counties.
“The demographics of Delaware are changing, and DCA needs to become more involved in Kent and Sussex counties,” he said. “This will be a real challenge this year because of the economy. It is something that we need as an organization that represents the entire state of Delaware.”
For more information, call 302/994-7442, or visit www.e-dca.org.
For more information, visit www.e-dca.org. CEG