It was a year that many had hoped would mark a distinct end to the recession and the return to better times. However, political uncertainty prevented a dramatic recovery in 2012; instead, the Southwest saw recovery in fits and starts. While the housing market returned and helped spur private development, large government projects were wrapping up and new ones weren't coming online to replace them. For every two companies doing well, there were four that were still struggling.

The top Southwest stories of 2012 reflect that dichotomy: it wasn't the best of times, but it wasn't the worst of times either.

The year started with the country's largest privately held construction equipment rental company's bankruptcy. Ahern Rentals Inc., the 58-year-old family-owned equipment rental giant that filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the end of last year, revealed that it was $620 million in debt, with $2.8 million in unpaid employee wages and salaries.

Ironically, 2012 ended with another report on Ahern's bankruptcy, and unfortunately it was more bad news. ENR reporter Tony Illia posted on his blog that a judge ruled that other parties may submit alternate reorganization plans, since Ahern has been unable to reconcile its differences with creditors, despite four time extensions.

The courtroom drama over the Harmon Hotel at CityCenter in Las Vegas heated up throughout the year, with a new court ruling extending the saga into 2014.

Other firms sought strength through partnerships and mergers. Dck Worldwide CEO Stephen D'Angelo spoke to ENR Southwest in September about his firm's purchase of Summit Builders of Phoenix.

A string of groundbreakings helped bouy the Phoenix construction market. The Roosevelt Point Apartments broke ground in downtown Phoenix early in 2012, and by the fall, the project was being topped off. Appropriately for spring, the new Chicago Cubs Spring Training Facility broke ground in Mesa, Ariz. Banner Health began construction on the $151-million Estrella Patient Tower in the southwest valley. Also in the southwest valley city of Laveen, Ariz., Henderson, Nev.-based Tutor Perini Building Corp. broke ground on the Vee Quiva Casino & Hotel under an $82-million contract.

Topping them all was Intel's announcement that it would add another $300-million building to its already $5-plus-billion Chandler, Ariz. campus expansion, with its new research and development facility. Around the same time in August, the Mayo Clinic announced a $130-million expansion to its underway proton beam therapy building to consolidate its Phoenix cancer center.

Despite the deep trough Nevada found itself in after the recession, there were a few encouraging signs in 2012. A proposed 306-mile pipeline moved forward. The massive $1.5-billion Union Village in Henderson sought to reinvent how projects are developed. 

After some quiet construction years, the Las Vegas Strip roared back to life with unusual dueling projects -- two giant sky wheels. The 500-ft-tall SkyVue Observation Wheel broke ground across from the Mandalay Bay Resort. At the same time, Caesars is building The LINQ, a massive $550-million entertainment complex, which includes its own sky wheel. Caesars also announced plans to spend $185 million to reinvent an aging Las Vegas Strip property, Bill's Gamblin' Hall, into a boutique hotel/casino.