The 2010 Spotlight on Leaders in Contracting in the North Bay on pages 6 to 13 illuminates how top general and specialty contractors have remained on top as a number of sectors of the construction industry have contracted significantly in the past four years.
Read profiles of the largest commercial general, general engineering, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and solar contractors in the North Bay.
“For some it’s the best of times, and for some the worst of times,” said Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange. “Some are going gangbusters in solar and energy-retrofit projects, and others are cutting things to the bone.”
Much of the North Bay construction activity has been supported by federal economic-stimulus dollars, buoying local contractors large and small that have done such work in the past or won bids against fierce competition from companies outside the area.
But because of the big decrease in private construction, such as light-industrial and housing projects, competition for public-sector work has increased, pushing down bids to 25 percent to 35 percent below original engineering estimates, according to Mike Ghilotti, president of San Rafael-based general engineering contractor Ghilotti Bros.
“We’re doing 2010 work with all its challenges -- restrictions, regulations, and bureaucracy -- for 2003 prices!” he said. He pointed to changing federal and state stormwater-management rules for construction projects that would make site work difficult between September and April in coming years.
“And the latest good news? Caltrans just announced that due to the state budget crisis, they may be suspending work on their contracts starting as soon as Aug. 20,” Mr. Ghilotti said.
However, the Ghilotti Bros. hasn’t seen a boost to employment from stimulus-funded projects.
“The sustained increase in construction workforce has been largely unrealized because demand for ‘shovel-ready’ projects translated into primarily street and highway overlays [for which] about 60 percent of the dollars spent go to purchasing and delivering the asphalt materials,” Mr. Ghilotti said.
The company projected it would need to cut general and administration expenses by 10 percent this year to avoid layoffs and trimming of hours for year-round staff. So far, the company is on track to meet that goal, he said.
There are a number of large health care projects set to start in the North Bay in coming months. One could be the $282 million Sutter Health new Santa Rosa campus, if the county of Sonoma late this month affirms its initial approval. Another set to start this fall is Petaluma Health Center’s overhaul on an existing building for a new medical center.
“There is a fairly endless horizon of health care projects with the changing demographics that make health care more important,” said Alan Butler, a principal at TLCD Architecture of Santa Rosa.
But the firm has had to trim its staff by 40 percent in the past two years as school projects were tabled for lack of local funds and commercial projects slowed. The firm recently hired college graduate Scott Jensen, the firm’s first architect hire in two years.
“We have a fair amount in the pipeline, and if all goes well we will staff up a bit,” Mr. Butler said.