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Contractors See Construction Business Pick Up in 2014

7 min read

In general, 2014 was a year of increase among the biggest general contractors in Arkansas. Eighteen out of 32 firms that reported updated revenue figures for the largest commercial contractors list recorded year-over-year gains.

The combined 2014 revenue for the top 25 companies was up more than 19 percent over 2013. Last year’s total stood at $2.2 billion.

The 2013 revenue total of nearly $1.9 billion for the top 25 commercial contractors reflected a 9 percent decline from 2012.

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Among the top tier of biggest commercial contractors in Arkansas, no firm experienced greater one-year growth during 2014 than Little Rock’s CDI Contractors LLC. Revenue ballooned 60.6 percent from $129 million in 2013 to nearly $208 million last year.

“We really have an awful lot of projects that span more than 12 months that we’re working on,” said Mark Beach, vice president and COO at CDI. “We see activity in most every sector and are positive about the future.”

The Baptist Health Medical Center project in Conway ($61 million), Robinson Center renovation and expansion in Little Rock ($60 million), Outlets at Little Rock ($35 million) and Pulaski Technical College Fine & Performing/Humanities Arts in North Little Rock ($26.2 million) are among the entries boosting its total. And construction of the Benton Riverside Park ($30.6 million) should begin this summer.

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VCC No. 1

VCC remained atop the largest commercial contractors in Arkansas with 2014 revenue of $687 million, a 13.2 percent increase.

“There’s a lot of money out there and a lot of investments out there,” said Sam Alley, VCC chairman and CEO. “The question is how long will it last, and I don’t know that answer. But we’re very busy.”

The Little Rock company operates construction jobs from coast to coast, from the $200 million renovation and expansion of the Roosevelt Field retail project in New York to a $100 million Ikea furniture project in Burbank, California.

In between are projects such as the $170 million renovation of The Village development in Dallas; the $150 million River Oaks mixed-use development in Houston, Texas; and the $60 million renovation of Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas.

“Overall, things are better and stronger,” said Clay Gordon, executive vice president of strategy and growth at Conway’s Nabholz Construction Corp. “Education remains fairly strong. Health care has improved, but it’s still not back to where it was in 2012-13.

“The most exciting thing we’re seeing is the private sector, both manufacturing and office.”

Revenue at Nabholz grew 6.5 percent to more than $414 million during 2014. Second-phase construction at Fayetteville High School ($47 million) and Champions Hall at the University of Arkansas ($17.8 million) contributed to the workload.

The company’s largest Arkansas project in motion is the $59.3 million CARTI cancer treatment facility in west Little Rock. The 170,000-SF center at the heart of the 37-acre development is scheduled to open this fall.

A 54.4 percent increase in revenue pushed Little Rock’s Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. over the $137 million mark. The $93.7 million North Little Rock High School project is the company’s largest.

The new football stadium will open this fall, and additions and renovation at the school will be completed by spring of 2016.

“There are a lot of opportunities, and the industrial side is really starting to break loose,” said Scott Copas, president and CEO of Baldwin & Shell.

“They’re the first to shut down when the economy takes a downturn and the first to start up when the economy picks back up.”

The company is building a Southwind rice milling plant in Pine Bluff, an $8.5 million project with processing expansion capabilities.

Smaller work at the Welspun pipe plant near the Little Rock Port Industrial Park is expected to lead to bigger opportunities.

“They’ve got some big plans,” Copas said. “I’m just not allowed to talk about it. We’re working with them on that.”

A restarting of delayed projects accounted for some of the 2014 growth tally. Others remained on hold.

A failed millage increase in March derailed more than $100 million worth of construction planned to expand and improve the Bryant School District facilities. But smaller projects for the DeWitt School District and the Smackover School District are rolling forward.

More private-sector work is joining the flow of public projects, indicating enhanced opportunity for contractors.

“We’re seeing people spend money again,” Copas said. “The next several years look quite promising for everyone in the industry.”

Project Sampling

The Little Rock-North Little Rock market made its annual contribution to the roster of construction projects. A sampling of work in progress reflects activity across the varied sectors, including office, industrial, retail and more.

The 168-unit McKenzie Park Apartments at 14201 Kanis Road in west Little Rock represents an $8.1 million addition to the multifamily market.

“The first three buildings should be open sometime in August, and the rest should be open by the end of the year,” said Brandon Huffman, president of Huffman Contractors Inc.

The Little Rock firm’s portfolio includes student housing projects such as The Edge at Donghey, a 432-bed project near the campus of University of Central Arkansas in Conway, and The Edge at Rouse, a 288-bed project near campus of Pittsburg State University in Kansas.

“We’re building two projects for Henderson State University in Arkadelphia,” Huffman said.

The 240-bed Reddie Villa ($9.5 million) and 300-bed University Place ($10.1 million) are expected to open in August for the fall 2015 semester.

Kinco Constructors LLC is in the midst of completing two cross-street office projects in downtown Little Rock featuring a blend of old and new.

The Little Rock contractor is supervising the historic renovation of the Fulk Building at 300 Main St. The $3.2 million project will transform the former home of Bennett’s Military Supply into the new home of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods.

The state’s largest advertising firm will occupy the entire 21,000-SF building. Jameson Architects of Little Rock handled the design work on 300 Main.

Kinco also is overseeing the $3.1 million project at 301 Main, which involved demolishing a two-story shop that housed Mr. Cool’s Clothing and replacing it with a four-story office building.

“We’ll be starting on the exterior very soon,” said Doug Wasson, CEO of Kinco Constructors.

CJRW’s video subsidiary, Jones Film Video, will occupy the ground floor of the 28,000-SF building, designed by Taggart Architects of North Little Rock. For now, the upper floors will consist of unfinished office space awaiting tenants.

Both projects are headed toward completion this summer.

Less visible though much larger is a 14-bay hangar that Kinco is building for Dassault Falcon Jet, a $33 million project in Little Rock.

A 20-bed senior psychiatric care unit represents the main component of a 13,000-SF addition to the nearly 18-acre Bridgeway campus in North Little Rock. The $4 million project overseen by DeAngelis Diamond Construction Inc. of Naples, Florida, should be completed before fall.

“We’re in our 32nd year, and this is our first expansion since 2004,” said Jason Miller, Bridgeway CEO.

The $4.3 million Hum’s Hardware project in North Little Rock signifies an expansion of an old-school retailer. The development will bring 58,000 SF of new space under roof at 3815 and 3901 E. Broadway

Little Rock’s CBM Construction Co. is overseeing the project, which should be completed in September.

“We downsized in 2008, but we’re upsizing now and seeking other office space,” said Clark McGlothlin, CBM president. “We’re doing a lot of tenant finish work. We have a full slate right at this minute.

“We backlogged work during the first quarter of 2015, more than we have in a long time.”

Alessi Keyes Construction of North Little Rock, No. 22 on the list of contractors, is busy on the Entergy Transmission Operations Center on Vimy Ridge Road in southwest Little Rock.

James Sanders, project manager on the 24,000-SF, $10.1 million project, described the ETOC as “basically a tornado shelter, but it looks pretty.”

“It’s a hardened facility,” Sanders said. “It’s rated to an F-4 for a direct hit.”

And that’s important, because in addition to offices and cubicle areas, the ETOC “is the brain of everything that goes through Entergy around here.”

The ETOC was designed by the Canizaro Cawthon Davis architecture firm in Jackson, Mississippi. Completion is expected in December, Sanders said.

An out-of-state company, Embree Construction Group of Georgetown, Texas, is the general contractor on Good Shepherd Memory Care at 2501 Aldersgate Road in west Little Rock.

That 44,500-SF project — two patient wings connected by a common area — should be completed at the end of September, project manager Randy Crume said.

The price tag is coming in at $7.9 million, Crume said.

The new facility continues Embree’s list of Arkansas projects; the company lists 58 completed projects in the state on its website. While Embree’s work “runs the gamut” of commercial construction, including retail and restaurants, Good Shepherd Memory Care is a project of its health care division, which specializes in long-term care and clinical construction.

Good Shepherd Memory Care was designed by the Gould Turner Group of Nashville, Tennessee.

Gwen Moritz contributed to this report.

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