This year's Top Specialty Contractors survey revealed that at least some firms working in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas are starting to experience real, and significant, business growth again. But like the overall economic recovery itself, the fortunes of Southeast specialty contractors are proving to be decidedly mixed.

Photo by Ben Tanner Photography; courtesy KHS and S Contractors
Improving Conditions? KHS and S handled metal panel work for Marlins Park in Miami, where market conditions are showing signs of improvement.

Some firms are finally finding themselves in more robust markets and reaping the rewards. This year's Specialty Contractor of the Year, SteelFab Inc., for instance, has parlayed the Southeast's proliferation of manufacturing projects into a year-to-year gain of more than 40% in Southeast revenue.

At the same time, an increasing number of subcontractor failures in the Southeast has been reported, including in the Atlanta area, which is in line with national trends. Also, Florida is seeing "more than its share" of specialty failures, says Steve Davis, director of the construction division of McGriff, Seibels & Williams, an insurance brokerage in Birmingham, Ala.

More Upward Movement This Year

Over the years, the depth of ENR Southeast's rankings has ebbed and flowed with the markets they serve. And by that unscientific measure, this year's ranking of 75 specialty contractors—down from the 110 that participated a year ago—does not bode well for the overall strength of the market.

Also, the ranking's collective revenue was down slightly, again. A year ago, Southeast firms collectively reported roughly $4.5 billion in annual revenue, just above the $4.4 billion recorded for the current ranking.


On a positive note, of this year's top 25 firms, 14 reported increased revenue, while only four noted declines. For instance, this year's top-ranked firm, MasTec, reported surging revenue, with its $923.5-million Southeast total for 2011 a significant $170 million higher than a year ago. Also, EMCOR Group saw its Southeast revenue more than double during 2011, and third-ranked SteelFab experienced a 46% jump compared with a year ago.

Another firm that seems to be recovering some lost momentum is KHS&S Contractors of Tampa.

"We've definitely seen an upswing in bidding activity," says Michael Cannon, president of the company's East Coast division. Cannon cites South Florida as a burgeoning market and health care renovation projects as another source of new contracts.

"We are still below the peaks of 2006," he says, "but at least there is positive momentum on projects that had been on the sidelines for some time."