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March 29, 2012

2012 Construction Surveys: W.G. Clark Construction Co.

Specialty: General contractor focused on commercial construction in the Puget Sound area

Management: Mike Ducey, president; Scott Smith, executive vice president; Kevin Pantzar, CFO; Jeff Williams, senior vice president; Jason Preuit, vice president

Founded: 1910

Headquarters: Seattle

2011 revenues: $80 million

Projected 2012 revenues: $90 million

Current projects: University of Washington Mercer Hall, which will house 932 students (under construction); Lawrence Lofts, 131 apartments at 19th and Madison on Capitol Hill (nearing completion)

Photo by Chris Roberts [enlarge]
Cranes are busy on the site of the new Mercer Hall at the University of Washington. It will house 932 students.

Scott Smith, executive vice president of W.G. Clark Construction Co., said multifamily construction’s rapid recovery in Seattle over the last few years surprised him. “Everybody is racing to get their projects built.”

There appears to be pent-up demand, he said. “However, with rapid growth the concern is (the apartment market) will drop off again due to overbuilding.”

Economic uncertainty is the biggest issue facing the local construction industry, he said.

Commercial construction has lagged, but some firms are moving forward with plans for new office space and retail is showing some growth, he said. “Overall, I think Seattle weathered the downturn pretty well and hopefully the industry as a whole can build on the positive signs in the economy,” he said. “(It’s still a) very fragile economy.”

‘Everyone hit’

The 102-year-old company continued to have work in the recession because of its experience in a variety of building types and its strong relationships with developers and architects, Smith said. “Everybody got hit to a certain degree,” he said, “but I think it helped.”

There’s been some attrition in subcontractor ranks locally due to the economic downturn.

“There’s a lot of good companies that went under” as extremely low construction costs thinned subcontractors’ margins, he said.

Now construction costs are starting to rise because subcontractors and suppliers are getting busier and the demand for certain products is increasing. Some trades, such as plumbing, are starting to have labor capacity issues, he said.

Additionally, a lot of construction firms pared down in the recession and are hesitant to bring on more people now, given the economic uncertainly, he said. “(They’re) being careful not to over-commit.”

Smith said technology is helping project teams communicate better and therefore execute projects better. That technology includes everything from building information modeling to collaborative software to even iPads, he said.

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