BIZ Line: Oakdale Structure Praised - Modesto Bee 03/03/02

Small general contractor excels in commercial scene

By JEFF JARDINE BEE STAFF WRITER (Published: Tuesday, August 17, 1999 - Modesto Bee) ╩╩╩

OAKDALE -- Rich Murdoch spent a decade convincing companies to let someone else handle their payrolls.

Now he's creating entirely new payrolls by bringing new and expanded businesses to Oakdale.

Murdoch, a 40-year-old general contractor and developer in Oakdale, will construct $8 million worth of commercial buildings in 1999. With a Web site that updates photographs of his ongoing projects hourly, he's clearly one of the main surfers riding the wave of commercial construction in Oakdale.

Murdoch has been instrumental in developing the Oakdale Business and Industrial Park, along with retail centers downtown.

As a general contractor, he has a staff of only four, himself included. But through subcontractors on his various projects, he employs 25 to 30 people each day. Those subs are building businesses that bring jobs to the community -- 124 so far in the Oakdale business park alone, with more to come.

Oakdale has the highest sales tax revenue per person -- $1.50 per capita -- of any city in Stanislaus County, City Administrator Bruce Bannerman said.

That, in no small part, hasbeen enhanced by commercial projects such as those developed by Murdoch. ╩╩╩"I can't say I can name anyone who's done as much in a short time commercially," Bannerman said.

In all, small business loans totaling $1.5 million contributed to the $11.8 million in construction and approximately 227 new jobs in Oakdale in 1998, said Susan Martin of the Stanislaus County Economic Development Corporation.

Three of those projects -- The Don Hoy Co., Quality Machining and Fitness Plus -- are Murdoch's. ╩Murdoch also is heavily involved in the resurgence of downtown. He recently flattened the old First Interstate Bank building at the southwest corner of Yosemite and F streets. In about six weeks, he'll begin replacing it with a 12,000-square-foot building that will be patterned after the stylish turn-of-the-century bank building across F Street.

The new building will include a Washington Mutual Bank branch, a drive-through Starbucks coffee house and other retail and office spaces.

He will build on the northeast corner of that same intersection, which has been vacant for nearly a decade. Murdoch also built the Blockbuster and Plaza shopping centers at the east end of town two years ago. He has sold 10 of the 15 parcels in the Oakdale Business and Industrial Park, and has built all but one of the buildings.

Seizing the opportunity

How did one small general contractor become the city's hottest commercial builder? Murdoch began his career in construction building radio stations and dance clubs in southeastern Idaho 20 years ago. "My wife (Lori) was from Merced," Murdoch said. "I'm from Idaho. We compromised and moved to Oakdale." He went into the payroll business and stayed in it for 10 years before getting his contractor's license. He began building custom homes in Modesto in 1989. He later added his real estate license.

In 1995, Murdoch noticed how little activity there had been at the Oakdale business park, so he seized the opportunity. ╩"I read the story 'Acres of Diamonds' about a guy who had acres of land and sold it to go searching for a diamond mine. Turns out, the land he sold had the diamonds in it all along," Murdoch said. "I saw all that cheap land (at the industrial park)." If not a diamond mine, it's certainly been a gold mine. The park's owner, Cran Newell of Colorado, bought the land in time for the real estate boom of the late 1980s. But when the economy went south in the early '90s, the lots quit selling.

"He sold only one lot in about six years," Murdoch said. Murdoch met Newell and they agreed to have Murdoch sell the lots and be the general contractor on the projects. ╩"I thought, 'This is huge,' " he said. Huge, because the city of Oakdale included the park its redevelopment zone, creating tax breaks and infrastructure improvements. "The city has been incredibly helpful," Murdoch said. "Between the redevelopment district and the permit fee discounts and waivers, it's created a huge discount. It helps a lot."

The city, he said, will recoup those discounts through tax revenues within five years. Those benefits make it cheaper to build there because permit fees are significantly lower than what they would be elsewhere. The improvements add to the appraised value of the property, and lenders make their loans based upon appraised values. So prospective clients can more easily qualify for loans.

Consequently, Murdoch said he can sell the land for $1.50 per square foot, compared with up to $5 per square foot at other business parks in the county.

╩Meanwhile, Newell had deeded another one of his holdings, Yosemite Industrial Park, to the city. The city sold the lots for the price of their existing bonds.

While that park isn't in the redevelopment district, the inexpensive land made it lucrative to Murdoch. He pitched an idea to Greg Mauchley of Mercury Metals, a sheet metal business in Oakdale. ╩"He was renting three buildings," Murdoch said. "I said, 'I can build you one, and you'll own it.' "

Mercury Metals is now in a new 20,000-square-foot building along Yosemite Avenue.

Quality product

Murdoch's projects go beyond the traditional steel warehouse motif of many industrial parks. They are designed to look more like retail or office buildings, with extensive landscaping.

╩Mark Thomas of Oakdale Tire & Brake said the design of the buildings and its landscaping was a big selling point for him -- and his customers, too.

Since Thomas moved into his new 6,000-square-foot building 15 months, ago his sales have increased 45 percent and his staff has grown from five to eight.

╩"A lot of it has to do with the building," Thomas said. "I've had people say to me, 'Your flowers are so beautiful. If that's the kind of work you do, I want you to work on my car.' "

Thomas credits Murdoch. "He did a beautiful job," Thomas said. "He's attentive to his subcontractors. It'd better be done, and it better be done right. Rich is very particular in what he does and how he gets it done."

In his first full year, 1996, Murdoch grossed $2 million in revenues followed by $2.5 million in 1997, $3.5 million last year and a projected $8 million this year. And Oakdale has the additional employers and their payrolls to show for it.

╩At-A-Glance

  • Name: Rich Murdoch, 40, Oakdale.
  • Business: R.J. Murdoch General Contractor, Oakdale.
  • Services: Develops and builds primarily commercial properties in Oakdale. Also has a project in Lathrop.
  • Some major projects completed: Blockbuster and Chief Auto Parts (now Auto Zone), shopping center, The Plaza; Quality Machining, M and M Finishes, Mercury Metals.
  • In works: Don Hoy Co., Design Corrugating, Tide Rider Inc., Fitness Plus, Washington Mutual Bank and adjoining retail-office space, Remcon, Gun Accessory Supply.
  • Employees: Three, plus 25 to 30 through subcontractors each day.
  • Gross revenues: $8 million projected for 1999.
  • Family: Wife, Lori; daughters Melissa, 16, Stacey, 14, Kristen, 10; sons Tyler, 8, and Brett, 6.