Staying ahead of the game in project-delivery methods also has paid dividends for Southland, according to Lynch, especially in relationships with owners and general contractors. "Our Northern California division has been very successful in extending the design-build model to also include ongoing maintenance and operations in many recently completed projects," he says. High-profile owners such as Michael Bade, UCSF assistant vice chancellor for capital programs and campus architect, have used best-value and design-build contracting, which has accelerated the acceptance of those methods in other markets, Lynch adds.

Walters & Wolf, a Fremont-based curtain wall-doors-precast firm, has seen its backlog volume rise 22%, says George Chrisman, vice president. He attributes the gain to selective segmentation. That includes concentrating on office campus work for technology companies and private universities such as Stanford and Santa Clara, and avoiding public works and residential, though California's housing market appears to be making a comeback.

Chrisman says the firm's backlog in Northern California is primarily driven by the technology industry and private office development in Silicon Valley. The pickup in backlog is a positive sign for Walters & Wolf, whose 2011 revenue dropped 8.6%, moving it down one slot, to No. 13, in the ENR California ranking.

Chrisman says Walters & Wolf's largest project to break ground this year was the Wilshire Vermont apartment towers for J.H. Snyder Development Co. in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles. That project features two apartment buildings—one 25 stories and the other 30 stories—totaling 464 units.

Other major Walters & Wolf projects in Southern California are 650 Newport Center in Newport Beach for Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction and the La Jolla Commons Office Tower for Whiting-Turner in San Diego County.