As the economy continues to strengthen, the private sector markets—particularly residential and commercial—are beginning to drive the region's construction activity. But executives say they are not yet ready to celebrate because owners remain jittery over the slow pace of the recovery, and it will take awhile before gains in any market offset losses from the recession.

Photo by John Baer/Building Images, Courtesy of Structure Tone
On Higher Ground: Structure Tone's $177-million renovation of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan is scheduled to be completed by 2015.
Photo Courtesy of The Newark Energy Center
Keeping The Lights On: Skanska's $2-million Newark Energy Center was its largest project to break ground last year.

"There is a cautiousness to not get overzealous or overconfident in how the market is responding," says Pat A. Di Filippo, executive vice president of Turner Construction Co. (No. 1 on the Top Contractors list). Before the recession, "it almost felt like there was no end to the good times, but that wasn't normal. What we face now is more the norm and will remain steady for years to come," Di Filippo says.

Many of the builders that responded to this year's survey reflect the challenges of this new normal. While the ranking shows some firms with stellar regional revenue increases, revenue at many other firms held steady, increased only slightly or decreased.

Many of those with big increases are ranked in the top 10 on the list. These include Lend Lease (No. 4), which generated more than $1 billion in regional revenue, a whopping 45% increase over 2011. The firm was brought on board as CM on a project restart—56 Leonard, a Manhattan residential tower.

While tower construction was hit hard during the recession, resulting in many stalled projects in New York City, it is now on the upswing, executives say (ENR New York 3/11 p. 13).

Other top 10 firms with big revenue jumps include Gilbane Building Co. (No. 6), posting a gain of 38%, and Hunter Roberts Construction (No. 9), up 28%. Meanwhile, there were several newcomers to this year's ranking, including M+W U.S. Inc. (No. 7), Watervliet, N.Y., which is working at the $4.6-billion GlobalFoundries project in Malta, N.Y.

Besides the office market, private sector work is also climbing in multifamily, hotels, sports/entertainment and manufacturing, executives say. A recent analysis by the New York Building Congress (NYBC) shows that the private sector will fuel much of the projected 6.2% increase in New York City construction spending this year as well as the 24% jump expected from 2012 to 2014. "The upward revisions in our forecast, from data compiled over the past few months, particularly for the private sector, are extremely encouraging," says Richard Anderson, NYBC president. He also attributes part of the increase to Superstorm Sandy-related work.

Both the health care and renovation markets remain strong, says Bob Mullen, CEO of Structure Tone (No. 3). Health care is benefiting from an increased demand for outpatient facilities in preparation for changes arising from the Affordable Care Act, he says. For renovation, "developers are more likely to acquire existing buildings and do a complete renovation right down to the shell rather than buying or leasing a site and building a brand new building," he says. The idea, he adds, "is to turn Class B space into Class A space."

Structure Tone's projects include a $177-million contract to restore the exterior facade of Manhattan's St. Patrick's Cathedral as well as a $100-million historic renovation of Macy's flagship store at Herald Square.

The public sector, especially transportation-related work, still made a strong showing in the ranking, although executives say activity here has already begun to decline. They say the exceptions are work related to airports; Sandy reconstruction (ENR New York 6/10 p. 14); and massive infrastructure projects in the region, including the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement work. Such projects are expected to start debuting in the ranking as early as next year.

"Two years from now, some of the biggest jobs will be airports," says Mike McNally, CEO of Skanska USA (No. 2). He says the level of activity in this market by 2015 will likely be strong enough to replace the current level in higher education. Skanska's biggest project to break ground last year was the Newark Energy Center.

Meanwhile, hiring is up at Skanska as it is for several other firms. Head count at Skanska is back above 2008 levels, McNally says, adding, "We're bigger than we've ever been."


Please note: This story has been corrected to fix a mistake: 56 Leonard Street is a residential tower, not an office tower as originally stated.