quality workmanship and top-tier results
With a host of projects under its tool belt, Issa Construction leads the Caribbean construction sector
Issa Construction is a home-grown Jamaican construction company involved in various projects, primarily commercial developments. The company is known for its quality workmanship and commitment to delivering projects on time and within budget.
Committed to its mantra ‘developing Jamaican Real Estate by Jamaicans,’ the company’s team of experienced Jamaican professionals, including engineers, architects, and project managers, work to ensure that projects are completed to the highest standards.
Peter Issa, the managing director of Issa Construction, sat down with Business View Magazine recently to discuss his company’s role in supporting the growth of the real estate industry in Jamaica and its contribution to the Jamaican economy.
Business View Magazine: Could you describe Issa Construction’s overall business mandate?
Our construction activities primarily focus on commercial developments. We work alongside investors who own land and want to develop it. Issa Construction collaborates closely with them to assemble schematic development designs that fit their land. We also look for tenants suited for that type of building before proceeding to erect the building.
We’ve worked on fast food franchise buildouts within the commercial development niche such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy’s, and Domino’s Pizza.
Some of our ongoing work includes renovation and restoration of derelict buildings in downtown Kingston, which has been a passion project for about six years. We’re also putting up new buildings in the area to bring more growth and employment Downtown.
Business View Magazine: Could you describe the Jamaican real estate market from your point of view as an industry insider?
The real estate market right now is booming, mainly driven by residential developments, although commercial developments are not far behind. Many two-bedroom apartment complexes and townhouses are going up, driven primarily by overseas investors from China. Much residential construction is ongoing throughout the island.
Business View Magazine: Whom would you say are the primary buyers of all the residential properties coming up? Are they locals or foreigners?
The main buyers are senior-level employed Jamaicans living in the Diaspora who can afford units costing $40 to 70 million JMD (USD 250,000 – 500,000). Many see investing in real estate back home as a safe way of utilizing their extra money. So, yes, many of the purchasers are overseas, but they are Jamaicans.
Locally, affluent Jamaicans buy apartments for their kids returning after studying overseas. Others invest for the rental income potential.
Business View Magazine: You’ve mentioned developing KFC and Pizza Hut franchise outlets. Are there any other developments you’d like to mention?
We have completed two major commercial projects in the Golden Triangle which I am extremely proud of. These are the Head Offices for TotalEnergies Jamaica and The Delegation of the European Union to Jamaica, Belize, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and Cayman Islands.
We are currently working on a three-story commercial building on Trafalgar Road, one of the main commercial streets in Kingston. We have submitted the drawings to the local authorities for approval and meeting potential tenants looking for a similar space.
In addition to this project, we have a few smaller projects in the pipeline, both sourced through our parent company, Coldwell Banker, and landowners that want to hire Issa Construction to construct for them.
Business View Magazine: You have a two-part development process. One, surveying the land and formulating a plan, and two, construction. Coming out of COVID, how would you characterize the service demand within each step?
There’s strong demand for land, which drives up the price of land, construction, and, ultimately, the rental rates you charge.
Because land and construction costs are so high, people charge higher rental rates, but how much is too much?
How much more can owners charge, considering we are not in, say, Manhattan, where billion-dollar companies can afford to pay ever-increasing rent?
The primary workaround is a move towards property owners who own the land outright and don’t need to add the land cost to the rental rates.
Such owners can quickly get a construction loan from the bank and only worry about repaying it without factoring in the cost of the land. These kinds of long-term real estate investments are the most profitable in Jamaica.
Business View Magazine: Let’s talk about the main challenges many construction companies face – supply chain issues and skilled labor shortages. Has either of these impacted your business?
We experience skilled labor shortages all the time. Jamaica has a vast pool of skilled labor, but it is not growing fast enough.
Because of this, local and overseas construction companies are dipping their hands into the same skilled labor pool, sparking a bidding war.
For example, tiling crews don’t work for one company because companies like ours don’t have tiling work all year round. So, they’ll start a job with me paying X per square foot, midway through, they get a call from another developer they’ve worked with, offering twenty or thirty percent more. Then the tiler will disappear before completing the job. This happens with most contract workers, who will select the company they feel most comfortable working with.
We treat our skilled workers and subcontractors very well to maintain a great relationship with them and avoid these scenarios. We ensure payments are on time, and if they go above and beyond with night work or overtime, we pay them extra.
We maintain strong relationships with the best workers because it’s much harder to find and trust new people.
Business View Magazine: Speaking of subcontractors, do you have any suppliers, vendors, or partners you’d like to highlight?
One of our core suppliers is JT Refrigeration Services Limited. We’ve worked with them for about four years on every project, including design, purchase, and installation.
Another company we work closely with is Creative Building Finishes, primarily due to their flexible payment terms, which fit well with our construction cycles.
Tank-Weld Metals is also a fantastic partner that we work with consistently, and they’ve been very good to us. They’re Jamaica’s biggest importer of steel and lumber.
Business View Magazine: Have you experienced any slowdowns or delays in getting supplies while working with these and other suppliers?
In our experience, there have been more price increases than supply delays. While we had some shipping delays with supplies imported from China, we buy most supplies locally, and we’ve not experienced any delays or supply chain challenges.
Business View Magazine: Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, what is your top priority?
Our top priority is continuing to giveback to Jamaica through growth, development, and employment. This includes providing more commercial square footage for companies coming to Jamaica and existing companies expanding. We work with our primary franchiser, Coldwell Banker, to provide real estate offerings from warehouse to retail space to office space. Our bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, is also a key partner in this respect, and we have banked with them for many years and enjoyed their full support on all our projects.
Business View Magazine: Before we wrap up the interview, what drives you in your business? It’s very competitive. What motivates you most?
We provide Jamaicans with jobs, from painters to laborers to truck drivers to machine operators.
What gets me up in the morning is the ability to employ hundreds of people and give them the opportunity for a better life.
We’ve helped many people purchase their first car and assisted countless employee’s send their children to school.
At the end of the day, our goal is to employ as many Jamaicans as possible.
Construction is one of the most challenging industries due to its high stress. However, at the end of the work week, I see how these jobs transform their lives while having a drink with the workers and talking to them.
That keeps me going.
The other thing that motivates me is to see the product from start to finish. You visit a site when an excavator is digging, and then eight months later, you meet with the owner in a boardroom in the building we built. Knowing that you’ve created something larger than yourself is an amazing feeling.
Building the Jamaican economy also motivates me. We’ve brought over a thousand employment opportunities to downtown Kingston since 2015. These employment opportunities create a ripple effect, bringing families and new businesses Downtown, which in turn opens of more employment opportunities. The presence of more people Downtown also results in more patronage of existing businesses.
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AT A GLANCE
What: A leading commercial construction company rooted in building projects geared for the region
Where: Kingston, Jamaica
Creative Building Finishes – www.creativebuildingfinishes.com
Creative Building Finishes Limited for the past 22 years has been established as Jamaica’s premier provider of first quality tiles and countertop slabs. We are your tile experts for residential and commercial renovations and design projects. Our dedicated and knowledgeable team will provide you, our customers, with a comfortable, hassle-free shopping experience, for which we’ve earned the reputation for creating our customers’ visions into reality!