One of the Midwest's mightiest construction firms is on the move.

Courtesy of Clayco inc.
Clayco served as CM for Washington Universitys South 40 Campus Redevelopment in St. Louis, a complex that resembles a European streetscape.
Courtesy of Clayco inc.
Completed in 2010, the 21-story Centene Plaza features a concrete frame and transparent glass facade.

After years of dominating the St. Louis market, Bob Clark, chairman and CEO of design-builder Clayco Inc., has set his sights on Chicago, the base of such homegrown powerhouses as Pepper Construction Group, James McHugh Construction and Power Construction Group.

“I'll be relocating here,” says Clark, who opened a Loop office earlier this year. “As places for recruiting young and ambitious talent go, downtown Chicago can't be surpassed. The plan is to build a presence comparable to the one we've established in the St. Louis area.”

Clark already has colleagues in the region. Clayco has operated an office in suburban Oak Brook for 10 years. He also is acquainted with newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom he met while serving on the finance committee for President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

The initiative meshes with Clayco's broader strategy to diversify by just about every means imaginable, an approach that has served the company—a design-construction-development firm—very well in the face of a weak economy. While other construction firms have struggled with the nation's lingering recession, Clayco has nearly doubled its revenues—to $880 million from $471 million—in the past four years and secured the No. 2 spot on ENR Midwest's 2010 ranking of the region's largest contractors.

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The 27-year-old firm, known for distribution centers and tilt-up concrete systems in the 1990s, also has acquired the expertise to tackle projects of greater complexity, including a $320-million, 440,000-sq-ft battery manufacturing plant for Dow Kokam, a project currently under way in Midland, Mich.

Clark says the 2000 arrival of board member Hal Parmalee, past president of New York City-based Turner Construction Corp., proved pivotal to shaping the firm's future. “Hal made the great observation that in order to grow we needed to diversify,” Clark recalls.

“At the time, our specialty was a certain method of delivery,” says Kirk Warden, Clayco senior vice president. “I hesitate to call it design-build because it really focused on the integration of services required to deliver well-constructed buildings to our clients.

“So we began to identify markets to which we could apply that particular craft and made a conscious decision to pursue sports facilities and life science and health-care projects,” Warden adds. “We also began investigating corporate and financial sectors, knowing if one or two of our markets were down that another one or two would be up.”