Adding to the challenges for specialty contractors is the fact that some owners are becoming slower to pay compared with pre-recession norms, Deese says.

"Payment terms have been extended tremendously," he says, calling the situation "a huge problem for a lot of people. It's an owner's market right now."

Data Grows Positive

ENR Southeast's Top Specialty Contractors ranking reports 2012 revenue from work performed in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The main ranking represents firms' total Southeast revenue, while breakout charts rank firms by state and market sector.

This year's data revealed at least one positive correlation between McGraw Hill's reports of increases in new contracts and contractor revenue.

For example, McGraw Hill reported that 2012 Florida contracts increased by 21% overall. Coincidentally, for this year's Top Specialty Contractors survey, contractors collectively reported $2.18 billion in Florida revenue for 2012, a roughly 24% improvement.

Specialty contracting revenue earned from work in North Carolina totaled $1.45 billion, or about 23% better than a year ago. In Georgia, revenue totaled $941.3 million, about 6% higher than last year. South Carolina specialty firms collectively reported nearly $566.2 million in revenue, for a 2.3% gain.

Overall, Southeast specialty firms collectively reported just over $5.1 billion in revenue from projects in the four-state region. That's a roughly $700-million increase from the $4.4 billion that specialty firms reported in last year's survey and ranking.

Part of this revenue jump can be attributed to an increase in the number of firms participating in the annual survey—a positive sign of its own—with 100 specialty contractors earning a place on the annual ranking, up from the 75 published last year.

Even so, the market's ups and downs are reflected in this year's top 10, as four firms reported declines and four posted increases. (Two others were new to the list.) Telecommunications firm MasTec again took the No. 1 spot, with $745 million in Southeast revenue.