Oklahoma was the worst moment in his career--but the recession that started with the 2008 financial crisis was tough, too. "The bottom really dropped out" of construction, O'Neal recalls. When contracts stop coming in, "we try every way to inch by with the people we have doing the smallest possible work and hoping something comes along. We've even had people from the field come in and do estimating. In the hardest part of all, we lay people off. That's the worst thing."
What came along this time was rental housing downtown. Four high-rise apartments have opened in the past three years, and two more are under construction. OCI was hired to manage construction on three of them.
Manage is the key word. Unlike the early years, when OCI's own employees poured concrete, pounded nails, and hung drywall, most building is now done by specialized subcontractors. OCI provides coordination and oversight--a role O'Neal likens to an orchestra conductor's. "If everyone followed the plans and did exactly what they are supposed to do in our contract, we really are not needed," O'Neal says. "But they don't, so we're needed."