To that end, he says, “We're building differently to make us more efficient and more valuable to the building team. Our last four or five projects have involved some form of prefabrication and/or BIM. We're much more successful when we bring ideas to the table that save money, save time or improve quality.”

Improving Conditions?

The time may be right for specialty contractors to put their newfound shift in priorities to the test, as some sense that market conditions may be improving.

“We've seen improvement in the overall construction market during the first half of 2011 versus 2010,” Cannon says. “Projects previously put on hold are slowly coming back into play, and new projects are bidding.”

Glenn Sherrill, president of SteelFab, Charlotte, N.C., agrees that prospects are “better than a year ago,” with the best opportunities coming from the health-care, institutional and manufacturing sectors.

Acousti Engineering Cos. of Florida, Orlando, is seeing growth in backlog and opportunities, says Jim Verner, president. “However, market pricing remains greatly depressed due to unknowledgeable and low-ball competitors,” he says. “Competition is ruthless.”

Waldrop's Caldwell is especially optimistic. “Our outlook for the next six months is positive, as we have identified several significant opportunities with repeat customers and minimal or no competition,” he says. “I am encouraged with the number of planned projects in both the private and public sectors.”

Others are less sure of a coming upturn.

“Opportunities are limited and very competitive,” says John Cleveland, president of Cleveland Electric Co., Atlanta. “We are hearing talk of new commercial development, but we are concerned that the latest turmoil in the stock market will affect these plans.”

Denny Terrell, executive vice president, Ivey Mechanical Co., Kosciusko, Miss., senses a loss of momentum. “We saw an increase in new opportunities the first four months of 2011, but currently—and for the remainder of the year—opportunities will be scarce,” he says. “We do not expect much increase in opportunities at least until early 2012.”

Read on for all the stats about the Southeast's Top Specialty Contractors.

As specialty contractors hold on for what seems like an ever-elusive recovery, successful firms are getting as lean as possible, watching their bottom lines and adjusting with a mix of discipline and expanded services