UDN Inc. Has A ‘New School’ Approach To General Contracting

UDN on April 24, 2024

They had worked in construction for several years, including as co-workers, when they decided they could offer something different to the industry. So, in 2012 Nick Charvella and Nick Testa launched UDN, Inc., a general contracting firm intent on not only providing good work but also taking the grumpy and frumpy out of the world of construction.

“The industry was just so gruff and old school and not accommodating; that was the feel that it had to it,” Testa said. “In kind of a naïve sort of way, you’re thinking you’re going to kick down these barriers and be the nice guys in construction.”

They couldn’t wait to let people know, either, so shortly after they started the business, they attended a networking event in downtown Rochester.

“I was talking to one prominent developer and introduced myself to him,” Testa recalled, “and he said, ‘Just what Rochester needs, another GC.’ ”

So much for a warm and fuzzy welcome. But, 12 years later, UDN is doing just fine. The firm ranks No. 14 in revenue among commercial builders in the Rochester Business Journal’s Book of Lists 2024 and was No. 51 on the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce’s Top 100 list of fastest-growing companies in 2023.

Not bad for two guys who saw a need and together took a leap of faith in what they could accomplish.

“So many people would say, ‘Can you do this for me as a side job?’ or ‘Can you do this for me?’” Charvella said. “I said to Nick, I think we’ve got something here where we can really make a run at it. Are we willing to jump ship?”

They both said yes.

“We had enough money to pay ourselves for about six months,” Charvella said. “But if we didn’t do it then, we were never going to do it.”

Through their previous work in the industry, they had built strong relationships with subcontractors. They started doing a lot of renovation work in the bar/restaurant and hospitality space, as well as some residential construction.

Their focus has changed considerably over the years. Today, UDN’s projects are almost exclusively commercial, although they’ll still consider doing some sizeable residential projects through referrals or for previous clients.

“We do a lot public prevailing-wage work, using union subcontractors and paying prevailing wage, so that’s K-to-12, medical campus work, higher education, town halls, fire departments,” Charvella said.

That was the driver of growth between 2019 and 2021, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a considerable backlog of private work and when COVID hit in 2020, all that got shut down,” Charvella said. “But during that same time, medical work and educational work was deemed essential. So, that entire year we didn’t have one private job, we were so booked with public work. With the schools closed and other buildings shut down, the schools and municipalities ended up saying, ‘There’s no one in the buildings, let’s get this work done when we can.’ ”

The firm has grown to 20 employees and has offices at 252 Alexander St., a property they bought in 2020. Charvella and Testa are the principals.

That’s quite a change from the early years of UDN, when there was no permanent office.

“Between the third floor of the downtown library and the upstairs of Spot Coffee — that was our office,” Testa said. “We’d grab our laptops and we gave everybody our cell numbers and we’d act like we were in an office.”

By 2015 they began adding employees, and their first three hires are still with the firm. John Herriman has advanced from project manager to director of operations, Cory Diaz has learned the trade from a variety of early roles to his current position as hybrid superintendent and project manager, and Emily Torregiano remains the office manager.

“We really kind of Moneyballed it where we were grabbing young talent that we knew were good workers and just needed experience and grooming,” Charvella said. “And now all of those people are our management staff.”

Read more at Rochester Business Journal.