Most Contractors Report Increased Revenue During 2007

by George Waldon  on Monday, Sep. 22, 2008 12:00 am  

(To see the list of the top commercial contractors, click here. A spreadsheet version is also available.)

Construction activity held its own among the leading commercial contractors in Arkansas during 2007. Combined revenue for the top 21 firms increased more than 12 percent compared with 2006, growing from nearly $2.28 billion to more than $2.61 billion.

Revenue increased a whopping 39 percent at Little Rock's CDI Contractors LLC, hitting $575 million last year and ranking the company No. 2 among Arkansas commercial contractors.

The year 2007 "was a record year for us," said William Clark, company CEO. "Our volume is off somewhat in 2008 because the retail market has slowed down, but we're still expecting to have one of our best years this year."

The next list of largest commercial contractors based in Arkansas could be CDI's last, depending on what its new owner decides to do.

Last month, Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock acquired sole ownership of the general contracting firm, buying the 50 percent stake owned by a trust established by CDI founder Bill Clark, who died in May 2007, and Braggs Electric Construction Co., which is controlled by the Clark family.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Dillard's exercised its contractual right to purchase Clark's interest in CDI in the event of his death.

Some industry watchers believe the transaction is a precursor to a CDI sale to another contracting firm. Dillard's will have to weigh the benefits of the earnings boost from ongoing CDI profits versus the one-time gain from a sale.

Dillard's officials are testing the market for a would-be sale of CDI but could reconsider given the current economic climate.

EMJ Corp. of Chattanooga, Tenn., the largest general contractor in Tennessee, is interested in acquiring CDI.

"We received some information on the company, but beyond that ...," said Jim Sattler, EMJ's chairman and CEO. "It's a tough market out there, and we're carefully looking at the situation. They've been a good company, and you would at least like to take a good, hard look."

Founded in 1968, EMJ ranked No. 59 in the nation among general contractors with 2007 revenue of $777.7 million, according to Engineering News-Record. CDI was formed in 1987 as a 50-50 partnership between Bill Clark and Dillard's Inc.

An ownership shift transformed Little Rock's Bell-Corley Construction Co. into Boyd Corley Construction. Matt Bell, a co-founder of the firm, sold his interest in the venture to Boyd Corley and Shawn Tyler.

Bell's last year with the company, which he and his brother-in-law Corley formed in April 2001, was a good one. Revenue hit $42 million in 2007.

The one-year leap of 45 percent was the biggest recorded by contracting firms in our list, propelling the company from No. 14 to No. 10.

A healthy 34 percent revenue gain to $33.5 million pushed Hill & Cox Corp. of Hot Springs from No. 17 to No. 15. Little Rock's Flynco Inc. reported a nice 33 percent increase in revenue to $38.5 million.

More Records

It was a record year for Little Rock's VCC, where 2007 revenue reached $710 million (12 percent growth) and positioned the company at No. 1.

"2008 is going to be a good year because of all the business already booked," said Sam Alley, CEO of Little Rock's VCC firm. Retail for 2009 "is a little slow, but institution, hospitality and education are looking good."

Alley said the company is going to focus on more Arkansas projects in the coming months. General contractors around the state and region are looking for the state's K-12 school sector to generate a strong book of business during the next six to eight years.

"School construction is still the best market we're seeing in terms of consistent business," said Bob Shell, CEO of Little Rock's Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. "Some of the other markets are slowing just a little bit, but it's still pretty active."

Shell said the flow of jobs has slowed as the firm awaits building plans from architects who wait for design decisions from owners with slippery schedules.

"We have $100 million worth of business that might not start till late this year or early 2009," he said, adding that 2009 revenue "could very well drop below $100 million."

Revenue at Baldwin & Shell reached $147.7 million in 2007, an increase of 22 percent that ranked it No. 4.



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