Builders, Trades See Busy Summer Season

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Growth in the health care sector, industrial expansions and a busy season for public projects have contractors and the skilled crafts hustling this summer. They envision another strong year for builders and the building trades.

“There’s a good amount of work going on right now,” says Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. “The health care side is very busy and there’s more stuff on the books coming up,” he says.

Among the major projects underway in the health care sector are the $31 million expansion of the emergency room at Akron Children’s Hospital and a $14 million medical building for Youngstown Orthopaedic Associates in Boardman, Reilly says. 

Moreover, builders and tradesmen alike anticipate an even larger project on the horizon: a new Mercy Health St. Joseph Hospital planned for a site in Champion Township near Kent State University Trumbull Campus, Reilly says. 

“Overall, the bidding activity is relatively strong,” he says.

Akron Children’s Hospital is investing $31 million to expand emergency care.

While the health care sector continues to gain strength and the industrial sector is dominated by megaprojects such as Ultium Cells, Reilly says contractors are busy inside area manufacturing plants performing maintenance and other work invisible to the public.

“Our man-hours are up significantly,” Reilly says, driven mostly by the abundance of work at Ultium Cells, the joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution nearing completion of its $2.3 billion battery cell manufacturing plant in Lordstown.

Reilly says that although the general contractor on the Ultium project, Barton Malow, is based in Michigan, the company used local builders for subcontract work. “They’re employing local people and it’s been very beneficial for local contractors,” he says. “That’s money that is staying right here. It’s been a good project and has kept a lot of people busy.”

Contractors across the Mahoning Valley say they have yet to see activity slow down, which has proven both a blessing and a challenge.

“We’re extremely busy and bidding a lot as well,” says Larry Lencyk, president and owner of Lencyk Masonry in Boardman. “I have six full-time estimators bidding jobs here and across the state.”

Lencyk says he has some 150 workers on jobs throughout the region – and he could use more. “We’re working weekends just to keep up,” he says.

While supply chain squeezes have not affected his business, material shortages and longer lead times have affected some of the projects where the company is subcontracted. “Lead times are a little longer. But not that bad,” he says. Electrical contractors, on the other hand, are having a harder time securing materials and supplies.

Still, business remains as strong as ever, Lencyk says. “The last four years have been the best we’ve had and this year is looking to be the same,” he says.

Equally heartening is that these projects are spread across a variety of industries, Lencyk says.  The company has provided masonry and brickwork for new office buildings in Twinsburg, the Akron Children’s Hospital and Youngstown Orthopaedic projects, an electronic toll station on the Ohio Turnpike in Warren, an expansion at the Butler Institute of American Art, and school construction projects out of the area.

A $2.17 million addition to The Butler Institute will add storage and display space.

“Every sector is doing pretty good,” Lencyk says. “We’re doing a good job balancing these projects with manpower. We’re plugging away.”

Other general contractors concur that brisk construction activity this season shows no sign of slowing down. In some cases, this presents a challenge for those who need the materials and supplies to bid and complete a project.

“It’s taking twice as long to do half as much,” says Tucker Cope, P.E., and president of C. Tucker Cope & Associates Inc., Columbiana. “You have to plan way far ahead.”

Products such as overhead doors and heating, ventilation and air conditioning units are among the hardest to secure at this time. “You need to order these as soon as you get the bid,” Cope says.

C. Tucker Cope provides design-build of metal buildings and was recently awarded the American Buildings 2022 Building of the Year Excellence in Design. The award was presented to the company for its work on the Pitt-Ohio terminal hub in Parma. 

As supply chains tightened, Cope says his company expanded its reach to additional suppliers in the market to help alleviate any logjams. “We’re dealing with three or four suppliers instead of one,” he says.  Still, he says delivery delays for certain materials can hold up an entire project. At the same time, he relates that customers forecast strong backlogs in their business. 

In one case, a customer was looking to expand its fleet of trucks. When that customer couldn’t secure any new vehicles, the company decided to construct a metal addition instead and Cope did the work.  “We’re doing a lot of building for companies that do aluminum extrusion products,” he says.

The company recently worked on the 40,000-square-foot expansion at Dinesol Plastics in Austintown, a 100,000-square-foot expansion for E1 Digital Direct in Columbiana, an expansion at R.L. Craig in Lisbon, and an extrusion plant in Michigan.

Like all businesses, contractors have to deal with wild cards such as inflation and rising interest rates. Many are unsure how this might affect projects as they move forward.

“Some of the projects are going way over budget [because of inflation],” says Mike Coates Jr., president of Mike Coates Construction in Niles.  “When you sign up for a two-year project, these are some of the issues you face.”

Some contractors, he says, have placed contingencies in their bids to guard against unexpected cost increases of materials. “There are a lot of challenges to overcome,” he says. 

“We have 125 out there right now, which is a pretty good number,” Coates says. Among the projects Coates has tackled this year is a $14 million renovation of a landmark theater in Erie, Pennsylvania, a large parking deck in Pittsburgh, construction at Clarion University in Clarion, Pennsylvania, and a major project at the Warren wastewater treatment plant. 

“We’ve seen a mix of both public and private work,” Coates says. “It’s improved over least year. We’ve had a lot of work in Pennsylvania, not too much in the Akron-Cleveland area.”

One of the major projects on the drawing boards is Mercy Health’s plan to build a 241-bed St. Joseph Hospital and office complex in Champion on 63 acres near Kent State Trumbull. Shook Construction and Turner Construction Co. were selected as general contractors on the project. 

“We’ve sometimes worked as a subcontractor for them,” Coates says. “That’ll be a big project for this area.”

Meanwhile, robust highway and road construction commands a substantial amount of work from the building trades and area contractors, says John Lucente, business manager at Local 125 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

“There’s heavy highway, bridge and asphalt replacement work right now,” he says. Construction work on bridges, repaving projects, road widening, and roadwork in areas such as downtown Youngstown have factored into a very busy season for the Laborers.

Lucente says 375 from his union hall are on projects across Mahoning County. More projects are on the books, although he suspects some might be placed on hold until next year because of soaring energy and gasoline prices.

As it stands, there’s plenty of work along public roadways and thoroughfares across the region. This is without funding from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law in November.

“I don’t attribute any of this to the infrastructure bill,” Lucente says. “That should take another 18 months for that to come down.”

Pictured at top: Youngstown Orthopaedic Associates is building a $14 million outpatient musculoskeletal campus in Boardman.