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Epic construction forced Cullen to adapt

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JAMES P. LEUTE
May 23, 2010
— By its nature, Epic Systems is a very private company.

It will not discuss costs of its sprawling campus in Verona.


But observers have said it's safe to say that construction costs alone have been many hundreds of millions of dollars.


And a portion of that has found its way to Rock County, home of several contractors and suppliers for the software maker.


"In the history of our company, there have always been one or two landmark projects for each generation that catapults the company to another level," said David Cullen, president and chief executive officer of the 118-year-old, Janesville-based J.P. Cullen & Sons.


"Epic is certainly one of those for our generation."


The sheer size of the Epic project required internal changes at Cullen, the general contractor at Epic. Cullen added a level of management to handle the project and the revenue it's generated.


"It's a big league project, and we had to change the way we operated," Cullen said.


The project's timing also has been important, given the recent economic downturn.


"For us, it's certainly kept people working," he said. "It's allowed us not to avoid the recession but not to be as impacted by it as some of our competitors and sub-contractors."


Cullen said Epic is in a "breather" mode in its construction cycle. While the project has at times forced Cullen to have all hands on deck, the company now faces a relative down cycle.


"We ramped up, and now we have to ramp down and let some people go," Cullen said. "It's not an unusual story these days, but it's never easy.


"Still, I know how fortunate we are to have the work we do at a time when a lot of our competitors don't."


Depending on workloads that generally peak in the summer, Cullen employs between 400 and 650 people. Right now, it has about 500 employees, and approximately 20 percent of them are working on the Epic project.


Jim Schumacher, Cullen's Epic division manager, said Cullen's work for Epic is a reflection of his company's values.


"It's all about relationships, and our company is very good at building relationships," he said. "It's not one individual but all across the board right down to the laborers.


"That's certainly one of the reasons we're at Epic, because we can't forget that there was someone else here before us."


Steve Dickmann, Epic's chief administrative officer, said his company has a solid relationship with Cullen that stretches back to a project at Epic's former headquarters in Madison.


"We've got a history with them," he said. "Cullen is a very good firm, and they've performed well for us."


As the general contractor, Cullen is responsible for the sub-contractors and suppliers.


The fact that several are from the Janesville area is not the result of membership in a sort of nepotistic club, David Cullen said.


"It says a lot about the talent level of the companies in the Janesville area," he said. "They continue to gain the respect of the owner for their work.


"Everything we're doing at Epic in terms of speed, quality, complexity, they've been right there with us, and they've helped tremendously with innovation."



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