Looks can be deceiving. On paper, the companies on the ENR Midwest Top Contractors list seemed to defy gravity in 2011. The reality is that ENR Midwest's survey expanded this year to include activity in Ohio. The ranking now includes revenue for Midwest firms performing work in that state.

Photo Courtesy of Matthew McFarland Photography
School Work Clayco Inc. recently completed the Preston M. Green Hall at Washington University in St. Louis.

In addition, many of the region's largest firms, including Pepper Construction Group, Turner Construction Co., Gilbane, Lend Lease and F.H. Paschen/S.N. Nielsen, operate regional offices in the Buckeye State, making apples-to-apples comparisons problematic. Next year's survey will likely clear up the numbers.

As for the bigger picture, neither Anirban Basu nor Kermit Baker, the respective chief economists with the Associated Builders and Contractors and the American Institute of Architects, foresees a significant turnaround in U.S. construction anytime soon, though employment numbers finally are starting to inch upward. Basu, for his part, has all but written off 2013, save for select sectors such as power and health care.

Midwest contractors, meantime, remain locked in a dance of two steps forward, one step back. While the Illinois Tollway is proceeding with a $12.1-billion rebuilding and widening program, construction remains at a standstill in Chicago, the region's largest metropolitan market. In April, Chicago shed more jobs than any metro market in the U.S.—some 6,500 jobs in all—according to the Associated General Contractors of America. In May, it lost another 6,900 jobs.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promoting construction of publicly funded projects, but his efforts to date have generated more talk than action.

Indiana is seeing a surge in industrial construction but faces diminishing funding for Major Moves, a 10-year, $11.8-billion highway construction program launched by Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2005. Missouri, Wisconsin and Ohio are all teeter-tottering in a similar fashion, with the operative word being teeter, at least for the foreseeable future.

To see the region's top-ranked contractors click here.