Founder and CEO, Colantonio Inc.
Industry experience: 43 years
Over a 43-year career in the Massachusetts building industry, Francis Colantonio built a two-man carpentry business into a general contracting firm that completes more than $100 million in annual project work. Holliston-based Colantonio Inc. has left its mark on some of the Bay State’s iconic properties, winning a Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award for its 2019 renovations to the State House Senate chambers. Colantonio recently completed a term as chair of Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts, where he focused the trade group’s efforts on increasing diversity and expanding its recruitment of younger workers.
Q: What does your current backlog tell you about construction activity in 2023?
A: Our backlog is very strong for the next 24 to 30 months. We do have some holes that we need to fill, but overall we have a nice backlog of steady work for really good customers. Because we’re union carpenters, we focus on the multifamily public market versus the private market, and I believe the multifamily public market is going to stay strong. Those funds are not going to dry up. On the private side, you’re probably going to see some weaning off a little bit due to interest rates and insecurity about the future.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles facing Massachusetts general contractors in the current construction climate?
A: Well, it’s a two-part answer. One of the problems that all of us are facing is material shortages: delivery and the components to put the building together. The industry is also busy right now so to get people in management roles – anything from an assistant project manager to a project executive and across the board – is extremely difficult. All the firms are making sure their employees are secure and they’re being very well-paid. The problem the industry sees as a bigger problem is the age of the trades people in the field.
One of the things that I started 10 years ago with a couple of peers was to go out to high schools and meet kids at job fairs and career day, talking to them about the sustainable careers in the construction industry. A lot of the high schools really weren’t that interested in having us out there. Many of the schools think all of their graduates are going to go to college and many had no idea of the professional careers in the industry. AGC of MA started to educate the educators about sustainable careers in the industry.
We started an externship program. This is the second year. In the last week of August, we take in teachers and administrators who apply, and this past year we had 15. The externs visit offices that are members of AGC, these AGC member firms take the externs to job sites and talk about the benefits of working in the industry, not only as a tradesman but on a professional level. If they have an aptitude for construction, they consider going to a construction management program at a college. That seems to be a better way than kids making that decision at age 17.
Q: What’s the most unusual discovery your firm has made at a job site?
A: Many years ago, when we renovated the James Michael Curley house in Jamaica Plain for the City of Boston we found a hidden safe in the basement. The city had us bring in a couple of different locksmiths to try to open the safe, and they couldn’t open it. The superintendent working for us on the job said, “I can open that,” and when we came back in the morning sure
enough, he got it open. We were expecting to find some tales that were never told before, but it was mostly documents that we turned over to the Boston historical department. It was behind a wall in the basement.
Q: What was one of your most challenging recent jobs?
A: One of the most interesting jobs that we just completed in 2022 was to put a 64,000-pound generator on the roof of [state office building] One Ashburton Place. Because of the tunnels,
subway and utilities, we couldn’t set up a crane on the street to do it, so we hired a heavy lift helicopter out of Oregon to come in, and we rented the Boston Common for a day. That was our emergency landing site, and we closed off the surrounding streets and Ashburton Place. We had to take the generator apart to eight pieces, and placed them on the roof. Everything had to be under 15,000 pounds of lifting capacity. We did it on a Saturday with Marr Rigging, Milton Cat, Levangie Electric, Mother Nature and a cast of many others who participated. The event went perfectly without any glitches and worked out very well for everybody.
Colantonio’s Five Favorite Activities:
- Spending time with family and friends
- Fishing for stripers and fly fishing for salmon
- Building hotrods
- Driving racing cars at tracks like Lime Rock, Watkins Glenn and Palmer
- Helping people