Reignited markets in the manufacturing sector presage the first rumblings of economic recovery as “there is a resurgence of owners starting to move and putting some investments in place,” says Jeff Bischoff, vice president of business development at Lexington, Ky.-based Gray Construction, a design and construction firm with a host of projects for Asian and European manufacturers.

Contractor’s crew coordinates the installation of a jointless floor at Siemens’ nacelle plant in Hutchinson, Kan. Completion is set for December.
Photo: Courtesy of Gray Construction
Contractor’s crew coordinates the installation of a jointless floor at Siemens’ nacelle plant in Hutchinson, Kan. Completion is set for December.

Designers and contractors are traveling far and wide this year to accommodate an ever-globalizing market, with projects for auto plants, food and beverage, green energy and metals mining spearheading a charge out of a worldwide recession, constructors say.

“Manufacturing owners are first-in and first-out in terms of responding to economic conditions,” says Daniel McConville, president of the Americas at Broomfield, Colo.-based MWH Global. “And now we’re seeing some activity again from manufacturing owners.”

The recession brought about “a lot of mergers and acquisitions, and we’re being called in to do due diligence in managing the environmental aspect of operations,” he says.

MWH is the environmental engineer on about 12 metals-mining projects currently under way in Central and South America, ranging in value from $500 million to $4 billion. McConville points to stoked metals demand as the driver of a new wave of projects in the sector since the two-year recession hit. As owners seek new rounds of manufacturing investments to meet demand for consumer products, metals-mining activity has ticked upward, reflecting renewed demand for manufacturing and building materials. Healthy appetites for “gold, silver and particularly copper,” says McConville, spurred MWH Global’s rush to Peru, Chile and other Central and South American sites.

“Mining companies can [react] very quickly to market changes,” McConville notes. The bulk of the firm’s mine work is derived from “a global trend toward sustainability, which is a driver in metals mining projects now more than ever.”

Owners are investing heavily in environmental projects, particularly in water management. MWH Global has developed a “wet infrastructure niche” as the company expands into oil production services in Canada, where “water management is crucial for oil shale-cracking projects,” McConville says.

Builders and designers aren’t chasing only international projects abroad; they also are managing jobs closer to home. Gray Construction’s well-established global reach as a design-builder in multiple sectors confers a cross-cultural expertise to international owners venturing to North America.

Owners in Europe and Asia have Gray at the helm of manufacturing facility projects in Kansas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas.

Germany-based Volkswagen tapped Gray’s design-build acumen for a 447,000-sq-ft auto assembly plant nearly completed in Chattanooga, Tenn., for an undisclosed value, while German manufacturer Siemens contracted Gray to design-build a 276,000-sq-ft nacelle plant in Hutchinson, Kan., that is headed for completion in December.

Brazilian beef producer JBS put Gray to work design-building a 267,000-sq-ft processing plant in Cactus, Texas, to be finished in 2012 for an undisclosed amount. For Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi, Gray is design-building a $100-million, 240,000-sq-ft nacelle plant at Fort Smith, Ark., to be completed in fall 2011.

The list of places Englewood, Colo.-based CH2M-Hill follows manufacturing work extends worldwide. The firm is engaged in industrial projects in China, India, Singapore and Brazil as it “follows U.S. companies such as Dow, Dupont and Cargill abroad,” says Tom Searle, international president at CH2M-Hill.

With 2010 coming to a close, global firms have expressed optimism about the year ahead.

“Private owners are coming back, the industrial sector is going well, and we exceeded sales goals for 2010,” states McConville.

“There is reason for optimism,” adds Bischoff. “Industrial is one of the bright spots, and international projects are leading the way.”