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Signet invests record $1B in construction projects, bolstered by building in growth sectors, new markets

Tony Manna may not be a household name, but his fingerprints and those of his development firm, Signet Enterprises Inc. in Akron, are all over some of the region’s largest building projects.

Signet launched in the mid-1990s with the $31 million development of the Akron Aeros’ baseball stadium, Canal Park. Many in the city, including Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, credit the stadium with the revitalization of a blighted part of downtown.

The tentacles of Mr. Manna’s enterprise, however, extend well beyond Northeast Ohio. And they’re only reaching farther.

“At the end of the day, we’re interested in looking for new opportunities to grow our business,” said Mr. Manna, Signet’s soft-spoken, 50-year-old chairman. “It’s not like we need that much fanfare about it, for the lack of a better term.”

Driven by a throng of health care building projects, Signet this year has invested about $1 billion in construction — the most in its history. In addition, Signet, which boasts a portfolio of 17 acquired companies, recently opened an office in Shanghai, its seventh overall, to develop projects and acquire companies in Asia.

Of note, Signet led the development of Summa Health System’s $25 million health center at Lake Medina, which opened last fall. The company also is developing proton beam cancer therapy centers in California, Georgia and Maryland. Last month, Signet announced a new joint venture with Akron General Health System to develop wellness facilities across the country.

“We are definitely growing,” Mr. Manna said. “We’ve never been busier than we are right now.”

Health care buildings have comprised much of the company’s development portfolio in recent years. Mr. Manna estimates about 60% of Signet’s $1 billion of investments this year is in the health care sector. The company also does a large amount of development in higher education, including housing projects at the University of Akron.

Despite concerns among some industry observers of overbuilding in the health care field, Signet’s leadership contends its projects are infusing the newest technology into the market.

“You can’t sit back and worry,” said Mark Corr, Signet’s chief operating officer. “While we’re aware of the uncertainty in the market, you can’t sit back and not try new ventures.”

Signet has worked on several projects with Summa, including its 100,000-square-foot SummaCare headquarters on North Main Street in Akron.

“We obviously feel strongly they provide high-value, very cost competitive services,” Summa CEO Thomas Strauss said. “When we work with them, they do a lot of work with an open book.”

Signet’s relationship with San Diego-based Advanced Proton Therapy has been one of the company’s priciest ventures. The proton therapy centers the two companies develop traditionally carry price tags of more than $200 million apiece.

The centers, Mr. Manna said, use an advanced form of radiation therapy, whereby accelerated protons are extracted from hydrogen atoms to bombard cancerous tumors throughout the body.

Signet isn’t interested in quickly flipping companies or projects the firm acquires or develops, which Mr. Manna admits is unusual as many firms typically look to sell acquisitions or developments within three to seven years.

Since the company’s founding, Mr. Manna said, Signet only has sold one company in its portfolio, which includes manufacturing, insurance and consulting companies.

“We want to manage them and make sure they’re good assets,” he said.

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