The largest specialty contractors in the 11-state Midwest region put $10.03 billion of work into place last year, a slight increase over 2016’s mark that was just shy of $10 billion. The markets for electrical, mechanical, concrete and other specialty work continued to demand faster turnaround times from the 55 specialty contracting companies that responded to ENR Midwest’s annual survey.

Renewable energy—particularly solar and wind farms—as well as hospitals and other health care projects and data centers are still in high demand and providing the region’s specialty contractors with healthy work backlogs. The manufacturing sector is still growing, and specialty work on infrastructure projects increased in 2017. One major project—the $52-million stabilization of Bagnell Dam in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.—completed work this year. The project falls into both the infrastructure and power categories because it’s a hydro-electric dam owned by power company Ameren Missouri but also the gravity dam that created the Lake of the Ozarks. MC Industrial fitted the dam with 67 new anchors and 3 in. of new concrete.

“We are McCarthy Building Cos.’ specialty division, and we work closely with them, so between our backlog and McCarthy’s backlog, [finishing the dam] certainly allowed us to free up some crew members and to move them around to go to some different places,” says Mike Hartwig, project manager for MC Industrial, which ranks 33rd among this year’s top specialty contractors.

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ENR Midwest 2018 Top Specialty Contractors

Hartwig says he’s seeing higher demand for complex mechanical systems. MC Industrial is already working on Ameren’s fly ash storage silos throughout Missouri, a project that is highly mechanical with a need for modernization. The company is also pursuing a large combined cycle project in Lansing, Mich.

Gaylor Electric, Noblesville, Ind., is ranked 25th on this year’s list. The firm completed a range of projects, including the largest solar roof in the state of Indiana at IKEA’s Noblesville store and a manufacturing facility for NTK, the largest global supplier of wheel hubs and drive shafts. Gaylor President and CEO Chuck Goodrich stressed how badly skilled labor is needed to meet project demands.

“We recognized this shortage a long time ago,” says Goodrich, who is also the outgoing chairman of the board of directors for the National Associated Builders and Contractors. “One of the cooler things we did to address it is actually started a high school. We partnered with a private school, and we have 20 students that go to school here in our building.”

Called the Noblesville – Gaylor Electric Crossing School of Business & Entrepreneurship Satellite Campus, the school built at Gaylor’s corporate campus allows students to work directly inside Gaylor’s offices and fabrication shops. The students have their very own “campus,” fully equipped with a classroom with computers for students to complete their academic studies and their own family time space. For the job training portion of their day, students work alongside Gaylor Electric employees in the fabrication shops providing them with a hands-on approach. The Crossing Schools, based in South Bend, partnered with Gaylor and provides the academic portion of the program.

So far, 18 students are in the program, and they can go right into apprenticeship school from the program because they earn an associate’s degree. Goodrich said the goal is to graduate 150 students before expanding the program.

As prefabrication and coordination with 3D building information modeling continues to grow at the trade contractor level, more work is going to the specialty contractors that can get involved with a complex project early in design, particularly in health care.

“We have to really get out in front of [our projects], just schedule-wise,” says Brian Helm, president and CEO of ENR Midwest’s Specialty Contractor of the Year Mechanical Inc. of Freeport, Ill.  “I think we had six people on our Mercyhealth job early on, and we were actually coordinating as we went. It was a very fast-track project because the owner had some real tight deadlines, and we did that whole project, it was over 200,000 man-hours of our scope that we did in about 10 months.”

Mechanical Inc. provided mechanical, plumbing and medical gas services for Mercyhealth’s medical campus in Rockford, Ill., under a $60-million contract on the overall $465-million project. Gaylor Electric’s Goodrich agreed that, as business continues to grow, the demands being made by clients are also growing.

“The owners need to be open. They can’t generate revenue while we’re building it, so it’s kind of a little bit of a niche market in these high technology, detailed complex construction jobs,” he says. “You have got to be that way too. You have to be highly detailed. You’ve got to have reliable outcomes.”

Gaylor Electric completed a $10-million contract for mechanical and electrical services at the Neuro Diagnostic Institute in Indianapolis this year. Goodrich said that using BIM for clash detection enabled his company to prefabricate its systems off site and have them ready when the structure was built.

“We seek out big health care jobs across the country,” Goodrich says, “And we’re always looking to refine our design-assist and prefabrication processes. What I tell my folks is if you’re doing it the same way you did it yesterday, someone’s beating you.”