CON-A Group was founded in 1990 in Sibiu, growing into a leading large-scale construction company. CON-A has developed its own production factories, know-how in construction and design, building materials supply, covering almost the entire range of services that a company in this field can offer.
You laid the foundation for CON-A early in the 1990s, just as Romania was emerging from communism. Can you tell us more about the beginnings of the company, what was it like navigating the early stages of capitalism?
Despite the restrictive mentality that was pushed upon us during communism, my personal take on life and business was always very liberal. It took a while for the dust to settle after 1989, but legislation was already encouraging people to invest and I jumped at the chance to explore this newfound freedom.
Before CON-A I was working for a large public company that hired 600 people, but the environment was chaotic so I decided to resign and start my own construction company. It all started with me and two other employees. Now the Group has over 1.000 employees. People are the most important element of a company in my view, and what I value first and foremost is their morality. This was the main criteria to build my team throughout the 30 years of activity and something I've always been proud of.
CON-A grew from just two employees to more than 1000 today. What is the range of services you offer presently?
We have the capabilities to deliver turn-key projects, from the design phase all the way until the project is fully operational. In many instances investors come to us only with the land and together we draft and design the entire project, including permits & authorizations.
For design we have our own company in the group - CONDesign. It has a young but already experienced team, especially on the industrial projects. For construction we are able to provide the entire range of services as general contractors including the mechanical and electrical installation works through CON-A MEP. We also have a solid production base, two factories that produce metallic structures, concrete products as well as building facades, Aluminium carpentry etc.
We are meeting at an unprecedented moment in time, in the midst of a global pandemic. How was the business affected and what are the domains that tend to drive demand?
Regarding the pandemic, I believe the Roumanian Government made an appropriate decision to not shut down construction sites, as it happened in other countries. This allowed us to continue work and overall the construction sector in Romania saw an ascending trend, our company included. What I did notice during this period, particularly in the industrial segment, is that investors took a moment to understand what was going on and assessed twice the investments in plan. But since last fall things have started to settle, we have many requests for quotes and things are generally moving forward.
While we are not very connected to the residential sector because our Group is specialized in the industrial sector and large public projects. But as an opinion, the residential segment is growing and changing for the good: living spaces are becoming bigger, people show more interest in houses rather than apartments etc. I think the growth will be even more evident once the 5% VAT is sorted out. Regarding the office sector things have slowed down a little, many await to see how things are once the pandemic is over.
In your experience what are the main challenges a construction company faces on the Romanian real estate market?
This year debuted with an unexpected increase in construction materials' costs, in particular concrete steel. In my experience prices have never surged so fast and so much (up to 50% in some cases). Obviously such fluctuations affect construction companies, especially those who don't have clauses included in their contracts to alleviate the impact.
Another risk is related to the workforce, generally speaking the sector struggles to find the necessary level of qualification. We tried to address the issue in various ways, for instance we have been offering training programs to prepare students since way back in 2012 when we first acknowledged the problem. Aside from this, there is also a shortage in the number of workers available.
Many people left the country and overall Romania has around 5 million active employees - in my opinion, this number should be closer to 7 or 8 million. To my understanding the current Minister of Labour added this issue to his agenda, a good news for investors and construction companies alike. At a national level vocational schools should be given more attention, there are still many people in rural areas that could be attracted into this field.
CON-A is responsible for many of Romania’s flagship buildings, what are the most noteworthy to you and what are you working on currently?
The BTarena (Polyvalent Hall) in Cluj-Napoca or the Craiova Stadium are some of the projects we are most proud of, especially because the costs involved were very low compared to what is being built nowadays. On the industrial side we built factories for Daimler, Bosch, Continental or Pirelli, all remarkable projects. Just now we are building a biofuel factory in Podari, which is actually the first of its kind in Europe.
Foreign investors should know that Romania offers a really good environment, they can develop large-scale projects here, just as they imagine them. As proof to this stands the fact that 50-60% of the factories we built ended up being extended. And the capabilities are outstanding, Romanian factories produce high precision parts, car components fitted to the most demanding cars, Pirelli for instance makes tires for Formula 1 here in Romania
What would be CON-A's strategic objectives in the next two to three years? Are you considering expanding beyond Romania's borders for instance?
Since we have a lot of work keeping us busy here in Romania we haven’t really considered expanding abroad. We may do it in the future, in countries that are close to us like the Republic of Moldova, but now is not the time.
Objectives wise, we must first and foremost reduce carbon emissions, according to the European Law. This is an extraordinary challenge that lies ahead of us, for instance we need to find new ways to process concrete or reinforced steel, these two being the most power-hungry materials. Another direction is digitalization: information must come to us quickly from all active sites to speed up our decision making process, and ensure a good distribution of materials and human resources.
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