Driving, windows down, over the Indian River on the last stretch of the NASA Parkway, it’s hard not to notice as the horizon suddenly gives way to a spectacular view. Towering over visitors from all over the world at a height of more than 153 feet, the space shuttle’s iconic orange external tank welcomes you to the Kennedy Space Center.
For visitors, it calls to mind the legendary, larger-than-life missions of Neil Armstrong and Eileen Collins. But for Space Coast natives, it conjures up memories of sitting on a lawn chair in a yard on a warm summer night, following the shuttle through a sunset-colored sky.
Just a bit further down the road sits the headquarters of RUSH Construction Inc., which happens to manage the shuttle landing facility through RUSH Facilities, part of the RUSH family of companies. Working so closely to what its leaders regard as a reminder of both the legacy of Central Florida and the heart of its residents, RUSH is doing its part to lay the foundation for the next stages.
On the Pulse of Change
Al Forbes, the executive vice president of RUSH Construction, recalls the buzzing energy of the community decades ago. “What we are seeing with healthcare, Port Canaveral and privatizing of the space industry — I do not see it slowing down anytime soon. Remember what it was like during the Apollo program? Multiply that by four and that’s what’s going to happen around here.”
As Central Florida keeps its pace, more industries join aerospace to diversify the area’s portfolio — with changes that might otherwise take decades happening in just a few years. According to a survey conducted by the Kauffman Foundation and reported in the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando’s metro area placed No. 4 in the nation for its density of high-growth companies in the health industry, while already-established entities such as Orlando Health and AdventHealth are announcing expansions and new facilities at an astonishing pace.
Tourism, which has always been a stronghold of Central Florida’s economy, is hitting its stride as well, with an unprecedented 126 million visitors to the state and 72 million to Central Florida in 2018 alone. RUSH is paying attention to those numbers and has been for quite some time.
Before 2013, RUSH was primarily a federal government contractor. When aerospace and defense budgets seemed to dry up overnight, the company found itself looking to branch out. President and CEO William Chivers met with Forbes, whose experience as the manager of facility construction with Wuesthoff Health Systems in Rockledge and another area general contractor would prove invaluable in their ensuing partnership.
“When Forbes joined our team, this allowed us to grow our limited healthcare work into one of our primary markets,” Chivers said.
“The company has evolved from a government aerospace/defense contractor into a diversified firm that handles construction and management of medical, commercial, marine and other kinds of facilities,” Forbes said. In recent years, growth has been just as explosive for RUSH as it has been for the industries it serves.
RUSH employed almost 30 people by the end of 2017, and that number has almost tripled today. When a national peer group of construction companies whom RUSH regularly hosts returned to Central Florida for its first visit since February 2017, Chivers cautioned the visitors: “You’re going to recognize the building, you’ll recognize the faces, but you won’t recognize the company.”
The New Industries: Marine & Facilities
The two newest expansions, RUSH Marine and RUSH Facilities, are only 18 months old but have proved to be a catalyst for evolution.
On the Space Coast, RUSH announced one of its biggest undertakings to date just last fall. In August 2018, RUSH Marine – led by Tony Landry – was awarded the marine works package for the new Cruise Terminal 3, a $38.6 million contract. To house the newest and largest ship in the Carnival Cruise fleet, RUSH will be completing the construction of the berth where the ship will dock. The $163 million construction project, the largest in the history of Port Canaveral, is slated for completion in the spring of 2020.
“Their goal is to be one of the top, if not the top, cruise destinations in the world, and we’re heavily involved in seeing that become a reality,” Chivers said.
RUSH Facilities, part of the RUSH family of companies and led by Bob Dillow, is just as active, managing and maintaining Space Florida’s Space Port Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center. “We are on the front lines of what’s happening at the Space Center,” Forbes said. “We’re going to see launches every week, both vertical and horizontal, and the most exciting part of that is, it’s all going to happen right here. It’s manufactured, launched and landed right here.”
Toward the Future
May 2019 marked the start of the celebration for RUSH’s 35th Anniversary year, with plenty of accomplishments to toast. But Chivers and Forbes are not planning to slow down. On the contrary, their focus is on the many more milestones ahead.
“The goal is that the company continues for many generations to come,” Chivers said. If they have anything to say about it, those generations will not only be a part of shaping RUSH’s legacy, they will be shaped by it.
“I always tell this story,” Chivers said, prefacing his next statement with a smile. “It sums us up so well. One day, at a staff meeting, I asked everybody in the room, ‘What do we do?’ Everyone’s answer was pretty similar: ‘We build stuff.’ And I told them, ‘That’s not correct.’ We build things that make a difference.’”
For Central Florida’s future as a hub of innovation in health care, technology and other industries, that difference is exciting. But for that of the engineer driving over the NASA Parkway each day, and for the little ones at home who will run outside one summer night to watch a launch their parents made possible, that difference means everything.
“I was born here in Brevard County, and it’s always been my home,” Chivers said. “My daughter and her husband live here. I have two grandkids who live here. To see the change in the community — which I know is going to provide a better quality of life for them, more things for them to do and more opportunities — is incredibly rewarding.”