Many contractors worry about the potential costs and mandates under the new law. "Costs associated with the required health-care coverage will have to be addressed in the next 12 months," says Joel Stone, CEO of SpawGlass.

SpawGlass is one of many major contractors that are concerned about the impact of the federal health-care law. "We work both union and non-union, and the law requires us to provide specific levels of coverage for non-union employees or face penalties," says Dunn of JE Dunn. He worries that expenses incurred under the law will hurt many contractors.

"But there seems to be new or added levels of record-keeping and compliance requirements," Levy says. Contractors are working hard to do more with less, squeezing out efficiencies in their processes and investing in technology and equipment to make themselves more competitive in a tough, hard-bid market, he observes. "We try to chase costs down, only to have federal regulations require us to hire a new wave of compliance officers. In a competitive market, you can't just pass these costs to the customer," Levy says.

The construction industry sees positive signs and uncertainties. Contractors continue to plan for the turnaround that is bound to come, seeking new markets and services. But some contractors are looking a little further into the future than others. On April 16, Bechtel announced it had become one of the investors and collaborative partners with Planetary Resources, a group researching the feasibility of mining asteroids. "This is something that is probably 30 years away from being a market, but it is something we are looking at for the future," says Dudley.