Wait and seethe

Anxious for an upturn, top contractors keep their companies stoked with whatever work there is, wherever they can find it.
By Ana McKenzie
 

Frank W. Blythe’s company increased revenue by $35.4 million, to $119.6 million, in the 12 months that ended in June. That should be good news for any business, especially one in the construction industry. But there isn’t much excitement in his voice when he discusses the past few years. “In 2007 we did $195 million. Now we’re just creeping our way back up,” says the vice president of Charlotte-based Blythe Development Co.

Some executives of companies on this year’s list of the top general contractors in the state echo his message: Business just isn’t what it used to be. Particularly in the private sector, Edifice Inc. Senior Vice President Bryan Knupp says, where a dearth of bank-funded credit has deterred companies from expanding — and building. Charlotte-based Edifice fell eight spots from its position on last year’s list after its revenue decreased $45 million.

Public projects primed the pump but hardly flooded the industry with work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has disbursed about $663 million of the $735 million earmarked for North Carolina’s roadways, but there’s still $5 of need for every dollar of available resources, N.C. Department of Transportation Chief Financial Officer Mark Foster says.

Since the construction industry usually lags a few years behind the economy, most experts say it won’t fully recover until 2014. That’s encouraging some companies, including Blythe Development, to look at alternative markets for revenue. Blythe used to focus on the Charlotte region but recently expanded into the mountains and other parts of the Piedmont. A data center in Greensboro for a major U.S. company is partially why it rose seven spots to No. 15 on this year’s list. “We had to go wherever the work was.” — Ana McKenzie

Click here for a PDF of the list.