Industry Reports

Builders ‘Feast’ on Bustling Construction Season

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Retail, industrial, commercial and pockets of residential construction are evident across the five-county region. And contractors see a big lift as they move into a building season that shows no signs of slowing down.

Large industrial projects such as the $60 million expansion of Ellwood Quality Steel in New Castle, Pennsylvania, improvements at Youngstown State University and the hospitals in the area, upgrades at major wastewater treatment plants, and a smattering of retail and residential business is evidence that activity is not limited to specific sectors of the economy, contractors say.

This year, business at Lencyk Masonry, Boardman, is expected to match or exceed numbers in 2017 – a year that saw volume double compared to 2016, reports Larry Lencyk, president of Lencyk Masonry.

“There’s a real good mix of work out there now,” he says.

Lencyk says his company is working on some 15 projects in the area – much of it focused on the $1.35 million expansion at PurFoods in North Jackson and continuing work on The Enclave, a $13 million student-housing complex at YSU.

“It’s consistent,” Lencyk observes. “We’re getting our fair share of the smaller projects as well.”

Lencyk bricklayers are busy with an addition on the Austintown Aldi grocery store and recently secured contracts to provide the masonry work for two 717 Credit Union offices slated for Canfield and Howland. “There’s been some restoration work, too,” he says.

Much of the building activity – from a masonry standpoint – would be provided through two major school projects in Cleveland and Akron this summer, Lencyk says. “Right now, we’re at about 150 tradesmen,” he says. “Once the schools break, we’ll be at 175 easily. So, it’s good.”

An addition to the Aldi’s store in Austintown kept bricklayers busy at Lencyk Masonry.

Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of The Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, says that signatory contractors in the region are faring well, but the number of man-hours on jobs contractors report is about flat compared to last year, which witnessed about three million total work hours.

Still, there are jobs commanding the time of local tradesmen that aren’t reflected in those numbers, Reillly says. He cites the $6 billion Royal Dutch Shell ethane cracker plant under construction in Monaca, Pennsylvania, and the $900 million Lordstown Energy Center.

The Shell project is outside of The Builders jurisdiction, while the general contractor of the Lordstown Energy Center – Kokosing Industrial based in Westerville, Ohio – performs most of the subcontracting work in-house but uses local tradesmen for the jobs.

“These are great projects for the Valley but this creates a bit of a problem for our local contractors because of manpower issues,” Reilly says. “It’s a significant issue – we’ve got to get people into this industry.”

Construction-intensive projects such as power plants and the ethane cracker near Monaca have boosted demand for labor throughout the region, Reilly says. As more are needed to staff these projects, it leaves less manpower available for other jobs.

As work on the Lordstown Energy Center wraps up, for example, there is optimism that a second plant – the Trumbull Energy Center – could begin soon. And, contractors and tradesmen are eager to find out when work could begin on the $1.1 billion South Field power plant near Wellsville.

Meanwhile, projects such as upgrades to hospitals in the region and Youngstown State University are set to begin this summer, Reilly says. At YSU, he notes, work should start on the new Don Constantini Multimedia Center, which is positioned on the east stands of Stambaugh Stadium.

“That’s a significant project that you’ll see soon,” he says of the Constantini Center. “We’re optimistic that we’ll have a good summer and a good fall.”

This is evident in the private sector because many projects once placed on hold have begun to move forward, observes Becky Hively, office manager at Hively Construction, Canfield. “It’s really picked up here,” she says. “Last year was busy and this year we’re busier.”

Hively Construction is working on a $3 million, 62,000-square-foot addition at PHD Manufacturing in Columbiana. The building will house the new high-efficiency roll-forming line of the company and provide more space for inventory and storage.

“We’re beginning to see a little more industrial activity rather than retail,” Hively says.

Moreover, she thinks business owners are more confident about the economy and are pulling the trigger on projects and investments that before were in a holding pattern.

“They’re getting back in and starting to spend some money,” she says, evidenced by additions for Sheely’s Furniture in North Lima and the Akron branch of Window World. “Plus, there are always the smaller, filler projects that are important.”

If new inquiries and bids are any indication of the vitality of the local construction market, much of the work is driven by new industrial projects, says Paul Johnson, president of Adolph Johnson & Son Co., Mineral Ridge.

“We’re very busy bidding,” Johnson says. “I’d say 75% of what we’re looking at is in the industrial sector – the rest is in retail and medical. It feels like people are more willing to invest and grow now.”

Business has improved steadily since the fall of 2016, Johnson says, and his company is working on a new Sheetz service station along state Route 46 in Austintown.

Smaller retail jobs keep the pipelines full, contractors report, such as the Sheetz service station and convenience store under construction on state Route 46 Austintown.

“We’re doing a couple of the Sheetz stores. We’re continuing to bid for PNC Bank, some in the health care industry, but a lot in the industrial sector,” he says.

And, there are signs that demand in the residential building market is on the rebound as well, reports Mike Savko, owner of Savko Home Builders, a newly formed company based in Columbiana. His company specializes in high-end remodels and new-house construction that features technology that appeals to younger buyers.

“We got into this because we saw what we did with our own home,” Savko says, which features a blend of modern and traditional architecture, but built to serve the “smart homes” Generation X and millennials prefer.

“We’re entering the market at the right time,” he continues. “It’s going to be slow the first couple of years. But we’re hoping to target that demographic and really want to create something that they’ll be living in over the next 30 years.”

The amount of work on the books for contractors is so robust that some are wary about accepting additional jobs. The market allows them to be more selective of the projects they do undertake.

“We’re very cautious about taking on any other projects right now,” confirms Jim Salvatore, operations manager at Lee Michael Industries in New Castle. “No matter where you look, it looks good. And we don’t see it letting up before the end of the year.”

Lee Michael Industries was awarded the contract to build the 110,000-square-foot expansion for Ellwood Quality Steel that would house the company’s new annealing operations, Salvatore says. “We’re doing both the building and the switchyard,” he notes. “It’s huge.”

The expansion is projected for completion by September, Salvatore says, and foundation work is underway. The steel should be going up on the site this month and about 100 tradesmen alone are expected to be on that job.

Meanwhile, interest in the company’s pre-engineered metal buildings is on the increase, Salvatore notes. Because of high demand, however, manufacturers are simply maxed out and it’s likely the product wouldn’t be delivered for another six months. “They’ve never seen this kind of backlog before,” he says.

The Ellwood project, combined with other contracts across western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, has led to a bustling business at its fabrication shop and concrete jobs. “We’re pouring 200 yards of concrete a day here,” he says.

More recently, Lee Michael Industries completed concrete work at the new plant for Xaloy in Austintown – the former Tamco distribution center. The company manufactures feed screws and components used in the extrusion process.

“That was a big concrete project and we’re still doing some miscellaneous work,” he says. “We used to say it was feast or famine. Now, it’s feast.”

Pictured at top: The early stage of the $60 million expansion of Ellwood Quality Steel involves clearing and preparing the site.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.