Sunday, October 07, 2001

Urge to build wanes since solid year in 2000

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Last year was a solid year for construction companies on the Greater Cincinnati 100 list compiled by Andersen for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

        A handful of firms made significant moves up the ranking as public-works jobs, commercial redevelopment and new projects boosted revenues for top privately-held construction companies.

[photo] Peter S. Strange, president of Frank Messer & Sons Construction Co.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        But those gravy days have probably ended, cautioned Ronald A. Koetters, chairman and chief executive of Monarch Construction, where 200 work in industrial, commercial and institutional construction.

        “The great economies of the late 1990s meant that every organization wanted to build and that unleashed pent-up needs for expansion and new facilities,” Mr. Koetters said.

        But many construction companies focused on volume and not profits.

        “There will be difficulties in a tighter and more competitive market. This will be a Darwinian market — survival of the fittest,” he said.

        One of the gazelles in the local construction industry last year was Frank Messer & Sons Construction Co. President Peter S. Strange said the company landed in 10th place on the list with $318 million in revenues because several major construction projects occurred simultaneously.

        Newport on the Levee, an expansion at Children's Hospital Medical Center, a courts building in Columbus and an art center in Dayton led to the boost in revenues, he said. Messer moved from 20th in 1999 to 10th in 2000.

        All company stock is owned by employees and that has led to a work force that is committed to the firm, which was founded in 1932, he said.

        “It has provided us with a model for a long-term relationship with employees in an industry that has struggled to do that over the years,” he said. “The most important aspect for us is that all participate in results. Each person worked to make this the company where we find personal success.”

        Next year should be sound for Ford Development Corp., said Robert F. Henderson, president of the Sharonville company that employs 180. Ford Development landed on the list at the 99th spot, though he has some reservations about 2000-2001.

        “As a whole, I think it was a fair year, not a great year,” Mr. Henderson said. “This area stays more stable than most of the different marketplaces. Cincinnati doesn't have the ups and downs.”

        Ford found steady revenues in its service division, he said, which provides plant maintenance, renovation and repairs to buildings and sewer and water lines.

        “It keeps a lot of people busy for us,” he said.

        “Many companies see us as a highway contractor but on those smaller service-division jobs, we have a big work pool to draw from and can serve on a short notice.”

        Delayed capital improvement projects because some companies were reacting to falling profits meant revenues in the service division slowed last year, he said. “But the public work stayed stable,” he said.

        The $8.5 million widening of Kenwood Road in Blue Ash from Cornell Road to Cooper Road is an example of that kind of job, he said. Next year should be sound, too.

        “We have a nice backlog right now,” he said.

        Deerfield Construction Co. president Steve Bitzer said his Loveland development company focused on commercial and retail construction last year, including Newport on the Levee and a $20 million complex called Village Brooks Apartments in Symmes Township.

        Deerfield moved from 83rd on the list to 67th.

        “Last year was a solid year for us,” he said.

        “It was a two-year process, and we focused on overhead and doing more with less, getting our people to pony up and not hire additional people to do additional work. That was part of it.”

        Another factor for the move, he said, was “saying no to less-than-desirable clients and doing more for desirable clients.”

        “Doing more work for the same client is what made last year a success,” he said.


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- Urge to build wanes since solid year in 2000