EMCO Building has cemented a strong position in the local education market, with a current pipeline of projects valued at about $100 million.
A conscious shift into government sector construction in the past decade and a half has enabled EMCO Building to avoid the worst of the cyclical downturns in the state’s residential, commercial and retail building markets.
In particular, Emco has differentiated its portfolio by carving out a niche in the education sector.
The 31-year-old business currently has about $100 million of education projects in train, including new primary schools, in Wandi and Wellard, collectively worth a nearly $23 million.
The three-storey South Metropolitan Tafe building at Murdoch is Emco’s latest completed project; it will house the institute’s beauty school and business services, among others, and will open to students in 2018.
Director John Ripp said the 13,000 square metre building was one of Emco’s biggest education projects, and was valued at $40.6 million.
He said it was also one of the most unique, featuring 35 tonnes of decorative concrete shade screen across the northern face of the building, which was designed by Fremantle-based Armstrong Parkin Architects.
“The building industry moves, but over the last 15 years or so we’ve had a solid foundation in education,” Mr Ripp told Business News.
“All through the 1990s we did a lot of retail work, there was a change in the retail market that we were dealing with and we focused on getting involved in education – we saw that as a growth market.
“Housing has been up and down, the apartment and office market boomed and has now come off, but education has been steady.”
Emco has built more than 20 education structures across Perth in recent years, including the John Curtin College of Arts theatre, Edith Cowan University’s student accommodation, and the petrochemical facility at the University of Western Australia.
Mr Ripp said the education sector accounted for around 75 per cent of Emco’s current portfolio, however the business still spread itself across industries including commercial, retail, health and aged care, industrial, residential and heritage refurbishments.
Some of its recent notable projects include the renovation and extension works to St Mary’s Cathedral, built in 1865, and the construction of 125 apartments on the site of Perth’s former market garden and bottle yard, which was established in the 1900s.
The Northbridge project was also a finalist in the high-density development and urban renewal categories.
Mr Ripp said Emco’s portfolio was not restricted to metropolitan Perth, with the business having completed the Carnarvon Police and Justice complex a few years ago.
“It is a high-risk industry and you do need a fairly substantial financial backing to ensure you can ride the ups and downs of the market,” he said.
“When the market was booming and there was a lot of construction going on, we took a more conservative approach, concentrating on a steady growth rather than skyrocketing on turnover and size because a number of competitors in years gone by have fallen by the wayside.
“The days of the early 1990s, we were a small group of five people and handling jobs under a million, now we’re a group of 60 employees and have the resources to handle projects through to $75 million.”
Mr Ripp said Emco’s annual turnover was more than $100 million.
“Most of our activity is in the tender market,” he said.
“Being a big-tier builder in Perth, you’ve got to have capabilities across the board; we build everything from sewer plants’ pumping stations through to high-rise apartments.”
The business also works on in-house developments, either as the developer or in partnership with other developers, with its latest a 13-townhouse project located on Herdsman Parade in Wembley.
Mr Ripp said although Emco had recently focused on mixed-use projects (developments containing a combination of apartments and offices), it was planning to develop a single-use office complex.
“I think there is an opportunity now to start looking at smaller office developments,” he said.
“By the time it gets through planning, gets a (builders’) licence and we build, we’ll probably see improvement in demand for offices in suburban areas.”