Skanska Commercial Development is developing—and its building division is constructing—a commercial office building valued at between $60 million and $90 million in Houston's Galleria area. The project broke ground in November. Also in the area, Manhattan is working on a 22-story office tower for a mixed-use office and hotel project that broke ground last year.

Dan Gilbane, vice president and regional development manager for Gilbane Inc.'s Southwest region, attributes the increase in oil and gas industry development in part to a talent war, with companies wanting new office space to help recruit new hires. The company is working with the developer Hines of Houston on a number of commercial projects.

"The Houston market has been a great opportunity for us," Gilbane says.

In other parts of the region, major industrial work also is moving forward, including the $750-million Nucor Corp. direct reduced iron facility in St. James Parish, La.; the $331-million General Motors Arlington, Texas, assembly plant expansion; the $250-million Diamond Green biodiesel plant in Norco, La.,; and a $200-million Caterpillar hydraulic excavator facility in Victoria, Texas.

Bright Future

Following the uptick in activity in 2011, many contractors expect that even better times lie on the horizon.

DPR sees an increase in activity particularly in the health care and data center markets. "Last year, there were a lot of projects that couldn't get started that are starting this year," Nauert says.

J.E. Dunn reports increased opportunity in the multifamily residential sector, such as a $60-million Houston high-rise that the firm will start in 2012, as well as commercial office buildings and health care markets.

"We're starting to see a lot of positive things happening in Texas," J.E. Dunn's Ariss says. "We feel optimistic for 2012 and very optimistic for 2013."

Balfour Beatty's DeVoe echoes the forecast that 2012 will mark the end of the hard times. While public projects continue to make the bulk of big-dollar deals, he expects more private work to hit the market in the coming year.