Infrastructure is also a hallmark for EMCOR, a longtime top-five firm in the region and No. 2 in this year's ranking. The firm's recent large projects include two water treatment plants for the New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection. In Greenpoint, Brooklyn, EMCOR's Welbach Electric subsidiary installed electrical systems on the $5-billion upgrade of the Newtown Creek plant, one of New York's 14 treatment plants.

Welbach Electric also provided electrical services at the Catskill/Delaware Water Ultraviolet Disinfection Facility in Westchester County. When completed later this year, the $1.6-billion facility will be the world's largest UV facility. It will treat water from New York's Catskill and Delaware reservoir systems, which account for about 90% of the city's drinking water.

EMCOR's regional revenue dropped 15% to $650 million last year, however. Tony Guzzi, EMCOR president, attributes the slide to "project timing." Guzzi says the company remains a strong player because it "has a big footprint in the New York metropolitan area."

EMCOR's offerings include electrical, mechanical, facilities and energy services. Such diversification has allowed EMCOR to win midsize projects that have helped the firm stay afloat during hard times, Guzzi says.

Meanwhile, while not the strongest markets last year, the office and residential sectors made a showing in this year's rankings with high-profile New York projects. These include Boston Properties' 1-million-sq-ft Manhattan office tower at 250 West 55th St. E-J Electric Installation Co., No. 3, provided services including comprehensive telecom pathway backbone infrastructure work.

E-J Electric is also working with Durr Mechanical Construction, No. 5, on PSEG Fossil's Kearny, N.J., peaking plant. The joint venture installed the above-ground electrical, mechanical, piping and equipment for the 300-MW plant. Durr and E-J Electric also recently completed work on PSEG's 150-MW New Haven, Conn., peaking plant.

On the residential side, KSW Mechanical Services, Queens, N.Y., No. 13, worked on three buildings at Gotham West in Manhattan.

Guzzi says that the residential tower sector, in particular, is poised for growth in 2014-2015. "A lot of people in New York want to spend money on apartments and condos," he says. This "will keep the industry buoyant."

Nationwide, that trend seems to be happening already, as reflected in construction starts data from McGraw-Hill Construction. MHC, which published the data on July 18, expects the housing sector to have the biggest percentage gain of all starts this year. Single-family housing is expected to climb 21% in dollar value, and multifamily housing will increase 19%.

MHC, which also forecast a modest uptick in the private nonresidential building market, predicted that total new starts will rise 2.5% this year, in contrast to only a 0.3% increase last year.

Robert Murray, MHC's chief economist, says that 2012 "is shaping up to be more of the same—characterized by a mix of pluses and minuses for major sectors, leaving the overall amount of construction starts basically unchanged."