When evaluating the Midwest’s largest contractors, it is clear that there is no one formula for success. Like a good financial portfolio, the key is to diversify.

The top 10 firms on ENR’s Top Contractors list have their largest projects spread across six different states. Project types range from professional sports arenas to high school renovations to redeveloped affordable housing to downtown Chicago high-rises.

The 100 respondents to this year’s list earned $37.74 billion in regional revenue in 2017. That’s only slightly higher than the  $34.9 billion earned by the 92 respondents last year.

Nevertheless, many firms still saw a jump in revenue and number of employees. Southfield, Mich.-based Barton Malow Co. remained in the list’s top five (No. 4 overall) thanks to high-profile local projects such as Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and the $86-million, 140,000-sq-ft expansion of Romeo (Michigan) High School.

ENR Midwest 2018 Top Contractors

Innovations Bring More Work

“I’ve never seen so many large projects as I have in the past year,” says Charles Binkowski, executive vice president and COO of Barton Malow. Binkowski attributes that success to several factors, such as the company’s ability to work with clients to institute change and innovation. Among the innovations Barton Malow has successfully utilized is the semi-automated mason (SAM).

“Change for a lot of people is hard,” Binkowski says. “You put an automated mason out there and people may say, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ But with our clients, the whole idea is collaboration, and you want them to say, ‘Wow, how did you do this?’”

That kind of collaboration was useful throughout the company’s large portfolio, from work on the Detroit Metropolitan Airport Terminal back in the late 2000s to two current projects in the city that are reflective of Detroit’s ongoing renaissance—the Shinola Hotel and the redevelopment project at the former Hudson’s department store site.

The 130-room hotel broke ground in January 2017 and is expected to be completed late this year. The scope of the project involved Barton Malow’s virtual design and construction collaboration team (VDC) using laser scanning to measure steel beam placement between two rehabilitated historic buildings located on the original site.

Work Locally, Act … Locally

Minneapolis-based PCL Constructions Services, whose resume includes work on such projects as the Minnesota World Trade Center and the Mall of America, also reported growth in 2017. Last year, the company completed the $92.8-million Mystic Lake Hotel and Convention Center in Prior Lake, Minn. In 2017, the company also broke ground on the $229.6-million Terminal 1 Silver Parking Ramp at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. The parking ramp is 11 stories high and is the largest contract awarded in the 75-year history of the Metropolitan Airports Commission. These projects and accompanying revenue allowed for a 30% growth in employees, the company says.

“Our core business strategy is building relationships in our community,” says Michael Headrick, PCL’s vice president and district manager, adding that “85% of our work is with repeat clients.”

PCL, which earned $344 million in Midwest revenue last year, celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this year. Headrick says the company has been committed to remaining local over the last four decades.

That’s good news for a major metropolitan area that gets to work with a company that uses the latest technology on its current projects.

Headrick points to innovations used during their work on another Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport area project, the Intercontinental Hotel. The hotel, which opened earlier this year, features an observation bar on its top floor where patrons can watch flights taking off and landing. It was because of the height of the hotel that PCL was forced to create an all-encompassing Wi-Fi jobsite system. As a result, subcontractors with tablet computers didn’t have to worry about their connectivity evaporating the farther they moved up from ground level.

“The No. 1 thing is bringing a safe work environment for everyone,” Headrick says.

There are three new additions to the top 10 in this year’s list, including one big one. Chicago-based Clayco makes its debut by taking the top spot overall. Clayco earned $2.02 billion in regional revenue, the only contractor on the list to reach the $2-billion mark. Of Clayco’s revenue, 95% was derived from design-build projects, such as the Amazon E-Commerce Center in Monee, Ill., and the Centene Centre in Clayton, Mo.

Turner Construction Co. (No. 2 last year) remained in second place thanks to work on projects such as the Lake Forest Hospital in Lake Forest, Ill. Turner posted Midwest revenue of $1.87 billion in 2017.

In addition to Clayco, the two other newcomers to the top dozen companies were Neenah, Wis.-based Miron Construction Co. and Chicago-based Lendlease.

Miron moved from 14th overall last year to No. 9 this year on the strength of $78.5 million in work on the University of Iowa’s Elizabeth Catlett Residence Hall. The hall consists of 526 student rooms, 28 student community spaces, 10 study rooms, seven elevators and a fitness center.

Lendlease, the ENR Midwest Contractor of the Year, jumped eight spots to No. 11 this year in part due to work on Landmark West Loop, a 30-story tower in downtown Chicago.

Rounding out the top dozen was Cincinnati-based Messer Construction Co. The largest construction company in southern Ohio stayed high on the list thanks to projects such as the $101-million renovation on Cincinnati Music Hall. The scope of work included a resloped main floor and a new stage. It was the largest such project in the building’s 140-year history.