Firms Tap New England’s Smaller Markets
While construction in Boston has been booming for more than five years, New England’s smaller cities are only recently getting in on the action. Participants in this year’s ENR New England Top Contractor and Top Specialty Contractor surveys are reporting brisk business in both large and small metropolitan markets.
Mixed-use development in smaller cities such as Portland, Maine, and Burlington, Vt., is at “peak intensity,” says Jay Fayette, president and chief operating officer of PC Construction. “Almost every older building or older parking lot [in these cities] is being viewed as an opportunity for high-end or mid-level residential development.”
Ranked No. 14 in the Top Contractor survey with $284.9 million in revenue, the South Burlington, Vt.-based PC has active contracts valued at nearly $1 billion, with a $500-million backlog, says Fayette. PC ranked 13th last year with $234.53 million in regional revenue.
In Burlington, PC is building the $225-million CityPlace development. The mixed-use project involves demolishing and replacing an existing 1976 shopping mall, which mostly turned its back on the street, with a street-facing mall that also has 288 apartments and 230,000 sq ft of office space.
PC recently completed the $22.5-million mixed-use Hiawatha Building in Portland, Maine. The eight-story, 142,000-sq-ft building includes 139 apartments, ground-floor retail and subgrade and ground-level parking.
PC isn’t the only busy firm in the region. The 30 firms that participated in the contractor survey reported a total $10.4 billion in regional revenue in 2017, while the 17 firms that responded to the specialty contractor survey logged a total of $2.1 billion. Last year, 30 contractors reported a total of $8.8 billion in revenue in the region and 17 specialty firms reported a total of $1.6 billion in revenue.
The top five firms on this year’s contractor list collected a combined $4.6 billion in revenue, up from $4.4 billion last year. Participating in New England’s survey for the first time, Turner Construction Co. was the No. 1-ranked firm with $1.19 billion in revenue. Turner ranks slightly ahead of Suffolk and Consigli Construction Co., which reported $1.14 billion and $1.09 billion in revenue, respectively.
The top five firms in the specialty contractor survey recorded a combined $1.3 billion in 2017 revenue, up from $977.4 million the previous year. EMCOR Group Inc. once again ranked first with $377.3 million in revenue. S&F Concrete ranked second with $235.8 million and Wayne J. Griffin Electric Inc. third with $234.9 million.
J.C. Cannistraro LLC—the first ENR New England Specialty Contractor of the Year (see p. 14)—ranked fourth with $222 million in regional revenue.
Construction firms in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are benefiting from lab work, says Bill French Jr., president of W.L. French Excavating Corp. The Billerica, Mass., firm reported $84.9 million in revenue, up from $73.88 million last year. The firm is ranked No. 11 for the second straight year on the specialty contractor list.
French recently completed a $1.4-million demolition project for an atrium addition for Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. French’s scope of work on the project, under construction by John Moriarty & Associates, included excavation and backfill for foundations and underslab utilities along with grading and prep work for site improvements.
Employment in the biopharmaceutical sector surpassed 70,000 workers for the first time in Massachusetts last year, according to the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation. A new report from the group found that nearly 12,000 new biopharmaceutical sector jobs are expected to be created by 2023, a more than 17% increase.
French Jr., who says the biomedical and health care sectors currently account for approximately 15% of his firm’s business, expects the biotech boom to create residential and hospital work for the construction industry. “The region is growing in leaps and bounds,” he says.
For French’s $8.4-million contract on 399 Binney Street in Cambridge, Mass., the firm demolished existing buildings on the site, relocated existing utilities and constructed an internally braced sheet-pile cofferdam to support a 22-ft-deep excavation.
The 164,000-sq-ft office-lab-retail development, on course for completion next spring, is an expansion of the nine-building One Kendall Square campus. “That whole area of Cambridge has exploded,” French Jr. says.
In Burlington, PC is scheduled to deliver the second phase of a $104-million University of Vermont science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) complex in June 2019. PC completed the project’s first phase last year. The school’s record-size capital project includes three interconnected buildings and 20 teaching labs.
PC’s Fayette predicts that large universities will continue building STEM facilities to comply with requirements for applying for federal research grants.
“There’s more of those on the horizon,” he says.