Despite a depressed U.S. construction market in 2009, Walsh Construction Co. of Chicago managed to generate $1.3 billion in regional revenue and more than $3.3 billion nationwide.
For the second straight year, it repeated as the top contractor in Midwest Construction’s ranking of regional contractors and repeated as the 17th largest U.S. contractor in Engineering News-Record’s rankings. ENR and Midwest Construction are both published by McGraw-Hill.
History of Growth and Family Ownership
Founded in 1898 in Chicago by Matthew Myles Walsh, an Irish immigrant, Walsh Construction has grown into the Midwest’s largest general contractor.
Now headed by the founder’s grandsons—CEO Matthew Walsh and his brother, president Daniel Walsh—the 112-year-old firm provides general contracting, construction management and design-build services to cities, states, the federal government and private clients nationwide. Its $400-million worth of construction equipment is among the country’s largest privately owned fleets.
The company has experience in a wide range of building, civil and transportation sectors, including aviation, commercial office buildings, rapid transit, highways, bridges, dams, educational facilities, warehouses and distribution facilities, athletic centers, correctional facilities and wastewater and water treatment plants.
Some of its larger projects in the Upper Midwest in recent years include the $250-million Legacy at Millennium Park; $200-million Heritage at Millennium Park; $375-million John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County; $250-million addition of 24 floors atop the 33-story Blue Cross Blue Shield building in Chicago; $250-million Sherman Hospital replacement campus in Elgin, Ill.; and $143.1-million worth of work on the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation’s project that is now replacing and widening 35 mi of Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line.
Diversification, Financial Strength Help Weather Down Markets
One reason Walshwas selected as 2010 contractor of the year was that it repeated as the region’s largest contractor in a difficult economy. In addition to being largest overall, Walsh ranked first in construction of multiunit residential buildings, transportation and design-build projects. It ranked second in general building and entertainment-related construction.
“Walsh is diversified, both geographically and in its products,” Dan Walsh says. “When some markets are down, others are up, so things tend to balance out. In the 40 years that Matt and I have been running the company, we’ve seen seven down cycles. Each one has reminded us to stay diversified.”
Dan Walsh adds that throughout the recession, federal building work has replaced much of the volume the company lost in private-sector building construction. He says that bridge work hasn’t lost any ground, and that other strong sectors include health care, water and wastewater work.
“The recession has not been a bad thing for Walsh Construction,” he says. “Our financial strength lets us take advantage of down-market opportunities. We expect to come out of the recession in even better shape for a strong launch into the next up cycle.”
Sean Walsh, operations manager for the company’s commercial building division and the fourth Walsh generation managing the business.
“We consider ourselves to be builders first,” Sean Walsh says. “We just use those skills in lots of different applications. We’re always looking for new frontiers.”
BIM and Virtual Design Leadership a Key
In addition to its overall performance, Walsh was chosen both for its own extensive use of building information modeling and virtual design construction and for its leadership in helping educate the industry about BIM.
At the start of a project, Walsh builds a BIM digital model, then uses that electronic model to identify and solve complex issues before starting physical construction. Walsh also makes extensive use of BIM for 3D coordination, 4D scheduling, 5D costing and field implementation.
When construction is complete, the electronic BIM files can help the building’s owner manage and maintain the facility throughout its lifetime.
Walsh also is helping teach the industry how to benefit from the powerful technology. Walsh’s staff helped write ConsensusDocs 301 Building Information Modeling Addendum, the first contractual BIM addendum for contractors working with designers in a BIM environment.
Walsh was one of three builders that provided in-depth expertise in drafting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ BIM requirements for Center of Standardization buildings.
Walsh’s BIM manager helped write classes that the Associated General Contractors of America uses to teach its members about BIM’s benefits. He was also principal author of The Contractor’s Guide to BIM, Edition 2. In addition, Walsh managers teach the AGC’s BIM classes across the country and present at BIM seminars.