AR.CA. Ghana Engineering: Construction Planning and Supervision for Industry and Residential

Marco Casano shares his assessment of the construction sector in Ghana and talks about the latest trends. He also presents AR.CA. Ghana Engineering, a company specialized in planning and supervision of construction in the industrial and residential areas.

Interview with Marco Casano, CEO at AR.CA. Ghana Engineering

Marco Casano, CEO at AR.CA. Ghana Engineering

What is your assessment of the construction sector here in Ghana? What are the latest trends?

The construction sector is interesting in Ghana. It is moving fast. There are a lot of things going on here. But, there are many challenges in the field. In the last year, many people have entered the market without the necessary skills, so they have been met with problems. They came because this is a very interesting sector and there is a lot of money involved. The big challenge is that the quality of the construction here is very low but, at the same time, the price for selling or for renting is very high. So, slowly, people are trying to increase the level of finishes and quality because the people are starting to ask for more. It is not the Ghana of ten years ago where you could easily rent a villa with very low, poor-quality finishes for five thousand dollars. I found a niche in this particular sector and I started to work on it.

Can you explain what your niche area is? What are your competitive advantages?

We want to grow and to follow the trends of the country. We believe that the country is growing and that is why we are here. We want to start to stake our claim and we think things will be very big.

I have worked in Ghana for about four years with different construction companies, including Italian, Lebanese, and Ghanaian. The biggest gap I found during that time was in interior decoration. There are people here with the economic means that want to live in a house with the same standards of quality you would find in London, New York or Paris, but it is difficult to get these kinds of finishes here. The construction companies here are not ready. The quality of the construction in Ghana is not yet at that standard. My company, together with other construction firms, introduced the possibility to give this kind of service. We try to put everything together from the design to the final result.

What are some major projects that you have worked on?

We work more for the private customer, so mostly residential work. We have worked on some shops here in Cantonments as well.

Do you have challenges in these areas?

There are a lot of challenges because this is something new for the country. Even finding the labor and the people that are able to reach the standard we need is very difficult. You have to monitor the entire process yourself and you have to have your trusted people that also monitor the process for you when you are not there. The skill of the people you work with is the big challenge. Sometimes, they do not have any experience of the quality the construction is aiming for, so they do not even know what the result should be. You have to follow them during the entire process.

Do you have special tools that you are using?

Usually we start from the design. We give a 3D rendering or use virtual reality, all kinds of technology. This is especially useful when you work with someone who is not on the field. A normal customer is not an architect or an engineer, so these kinds of tools help you make the customer understand what direction you want the project to go.

How do you serve the Ghanaian expat community who is interested in building a house here?

We have developed a special product for this. We noticed that there was another big gap with Ghanaians abroad. They want to build here but it is difficult for them to trust the construction company or even sometimes their family. The big issue is that they live outside of Ghana, so they usually send money to have a house built here. And most of the time, they wait years and things are not moving forward, the house is not like they want, and there are many challenges. So, we created what we call our “Turnkey 3.0” project. We work with a company called 4D and use new technology to put a camera on site, and we use many other instruments that give the opportunity for the customer to follow all the processes from the design to the construction, even if he lives abroad. There is a camera on the sidewalk, so you can check what is going on and see if the people are really there working. A big challenge sometimes is that you do not know what is going on. You pay the company to work on your project and the company might be using your money to do their own project somewhere else. This way, you do not need to trust anyone, you trust yourself. You follow the work on site, using all these messages and chats, you can talk at any time with the project manager, with the people on site, and you can see everything that is going on. We call it Turnkey 3.0 because you deal only with us. We take care of everything. You do not need to deal with problems with the plumber or the electrician or any other issues. You work with one company that takes care of everything from the design to the finish.

What other sectors do you participate in?

As a consultant, I am helping Italian companies to move to the West African market, in particular to Ghana. For European companies, the African market has become very important for every kind of company that wants to move outside of Europe. Africa has become the target. Most of the time, for the small and medium companies, it is very difficult to take this step because they do not have experience abroad, especially the Italian company I am working with now. Most of the time, they are used to working in their own environment, so they need some help, especially on the first facets of the startup. In consulting, we especially work with companies that are in my field, so in construction or anything related to construction which can also be furniture, tiles, windows, etc.

Who are some of your customers?

We have a big paint company from Italy called COVEMA that moved here to Ghana to build a factory. Many other companies from Italy are contacting us because they are very interested in coming here as well. These companies deal with pipes, windows, and different items used in construction.

What did you do with COVEMA?

We took them through all the processes for the startup. We really start form scratch. At the beginning, they did not even know where Ghana was on the map. We did a study about the country and the market, the competitors, the product and the price, marketing research, and all the information you need to set up a business plan and start to build here. We gave them the contacts for lawyers, for accountants, and we even helped them find a local partner. We give all the information you need to open a company in this country from the beginning.

Do you also help them in the next stage when they get here?

In this case, they found a local partner and they are moving themselves with the partner. In other cases, we provide the second step and we can help with marketing. Here in Ghana, relationships with people are very important. It is more important to have a good network than a big network, and it helps a lot, especially for someone that is new to the country.

This service is already provided by some embassies, Chambers of Commerce, etc. What makes your services different?

Some embassies do already provide this kind of help. Some embassies are active in this area, but some are not at all. They may give some general information that can be useful at the very beginning to understand what is going on in the country, but when things begin to move, there is a challenge for them to guide you properly. So that is why it is important to have someone that is already in the system, already in the country, and knows how to move within it. That is the point where it is important to have a good consultant, especially when you move into a country like Ghana where there are many possibilities to make big mistakes and go back home with nothing. It happens many times. At the beginning, everything looks every easy because it is a country that looks open. The market is open, there are a lot of things that they need, so it seems like once you arrive, you can do everything you want, you can import everything, but it is not like that. There are many steps, many rules, many things that you learn only when you are here. So, someone that has been here before and has seen those mistakes can help you to avoid this kind of problem.

Where do you fit in with the railway project?

My main business is engineering. In the last few months, I started working as a consultant for the Ghanaian government as well. The Ghanaian government is really pushing for the development of the infrastructure of the country. One of the priorities of the new president is the railway system. There are actually two projects going on. We are already on the phase of building the railway. One part is in Takoradi and one is in Tema. Part of the consulting for the government is to monitor the project. We check that the contractor is respecting the contract. We assure the government that what is being built is really following what the government has paid for.

Has it been successful?

The project in Tema is around 500 million dollars and the other is 1.5 billion dollars. The contractor on one side is Indian. We just started a few months ago. The challenge at the start was getting things moving in a set way. When you are a consultant in this kind of case, you are between the client and the contractor, so you always have to balance the needs of each party. The contractor wants to make a good profit and the client wants to have a good job be done.

Project yourself two to three years’ time. What would you like to have achieved in the medium term? What is your mission for the company?

We want to grow and to follow the trends of the country. We believe that the country is growing and that is why we are here. We want to start to stake our claim and we think things will be very big. If you are already in the system, you can play your part. Many larger groups are doing the same. They have started to move here to Ghana, even if their country is not really ready, but just to be here. It is evident to people working here that this country is growing. All of us are ready to move onto the next step.


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