Denver (with facilities in Henderson)
Employees: More than 1,100
Energy and water infrastructure drive growth at RK, though few major builds proceed without the region's influential family-owned contractor
With more than 1,100 employees, RK is one of the largest employers on the Front Range, with a wall full of workplace awards covering everything from wellness to education.
The company didn't get there overnight. Ronald Kinning founded the company with $450 in Nebraska in 1963. From a small plumbing company, the company has expanded and evolved into one of the largest building contractors in the West.
Today the company has six business units -- RK Mechanical, RK Service/Electrical, RK Steel, RK Energy, RK Water and RK Mission Critical -- and takes a customized approach to projects all over the world. Annual revenue across all units is roughly $230 million.
"We've been coast to coast, border to border," says RK Chief Operating Officer Jon Kinning, Ronald's son. (Jon's brother, Rick Kinning, is the company's CEO.) The majority of RK's business is in Colorado, where the company consolidated operations in the early 1980s. The company also has done business in Utah, Wyoming, Texas, California, North Dakota, and international locations as well.
RK's contracting business is now working on high-profile construction projects like the Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Convention Center in Aurora, CO, Strata Vail in Vail, The Coloradan in downtown Denver and Country Club Towers near Cherry Creek.The company leverages manufacturing technology in 155,000 square feet of fabrication space.
"Our mechanical contracting business is our biggest," says Jon, noting that it amounts for about two-thirds of the company's total revenue. "All of our business units are poised for growth in 201.
The company's newest venture is RK Mission Critical, which develops custom data centers that are manufactured in our facilities and then assembled quickly onsite. "We anticipate fast expansion in the data center market," says Jon.
Additionally, RK Service recently opened a location in Vail, and is now servicing facilities in the central mountain region surrounding Vail.
With fabrication facilities in Denver and Henderson, RK has been able to significantly boost productivity through 3D modeling and planning before construction. "We have 40 active CAD stations," says Jon. "We build the building before we build the building."
The importance of continuing education is a focal point at RK. In 2012, the company launched RK University to help foster career development among employees. "Not only do we do employee training, but we're also working on career tracks," Jon says.
Workplace health has emerged as another key to corporate culture, and RK employs a full-time wellness coach to help employees improve and manage their health. The company also has garnered Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) lofty VPP Star Mobile Workforce Certification -- an accomplishment met by only 0.03 percent of U.S. companies. The company has also earned OSHA's VPP Star Worksite Certification and stand as the only mechanical contractor in the nation to hold both prestigious OSHA accreditations.
Jon says it all comes back to making employees happier, healthier, and resultantly more productive. "The biggest inhibitor to growth is truly people," he notes. "We don't oversell our capacity."
RK is also active in the community. The company established the RK Foundation in 2011 to support education, child advocacy, veteran support, and other causes. "So far we've donated nearly half a million dollars to charitable and worthy causes," Jon says.
Challenges: Jon says there is a shortage of skilled tradespeople in Colorado. "Our number-one challenge is getting people interested in learning the trades."
He says RK works with local schools to promote the trades to young people as well as running the in-house, four-year RK Apprenticeship Program accredited through the U.S. Bureau of Labor. The program has approximately 200 students in four disciplines at any given time, and tuition is waived for students who meet attendance and grade requirements.
"We have a saying," says Jon. "People ask, 'What if you train them and they leave?' We say, 'What if you don't train them and they stay?'"
Opportunities: "RK Mission Critical has a model for manufacturing data centers that exceeds the benefits of both traditional construction and container solutions," says Jon. "RK Energy is finding its niche in skidded, prefabricated oil and gas products despite the industry downturn. And RK Water continues to attract inventors who need highly custom manufacturing of water technologies and equipment. These three units expect significant growth in 2016."
"The power of RK is that units can work together as a single subcontractor on large projects," he continues. "For example, RK Mission Critical is contracted to build a data center. RK Mechanical will install the mechanical systems. RK Steel will fabricate and install any structural steel. Then RK Service and RK Water can provide ongoing facilities services and maintenance."
Needs: Jon identifies RK's needs as "continued government funding for skilled trades education," noting that "funding to train craft workers may help attract younger generations to skilled trade professions to replace those who are leaving the workforce."