Construction Projects Keep Contractors, Trades Busy

HERMITAGE, Pa. -- Two months ago, the lot next to CCL Container Inc.’s production plant here sat empty.

Today the site is bustling with activity as contractors work on the company’s 100,000-square-foot production and warehousing expansion. One building is up while another has its steel frame in place and is being prepared for siding and a new roof.

“We broke ground in mid-March,” reports Greg Koledin, president of Wesex Corp., West Middlesex, Pa., general contractor on the project. “It’s kind of on the fast track.”

One building – roughly 50,000 square feet, will house the new production area of CCL. “The only thing left in this is painting, floors, and a little bit of mechanical and lighting,” Koledin says. The production plant would be connected with an enclosed hallway to the new warehousing and distribution area.

The company expects to move equipment into the new plant by September. “It’s coming together seamlessly,” says CCL controller, Lynda Young.

What’s exceptional about this project is the speed at which it’s moving, Koledin observes. One factor that helps the project along is new technology employed during its planning and design phases, he says.

“Technology really drives this from the standpoint of the 3-D modeling we’re doing right now,” he explains. “This whole entire facility was built first in a model” on a computer.

Everything from the columns to the bolts securing the structural steel is accounted for during the modeling process, Koledin says. “Every piece of this is in a 3-D model, all to scale. From the masonry, to the steel, to the anchor bolts – everything’s in a model and it makes it safer, faster and more efficient.”

The pipe work, for example, took tradesmen just 2½ days to install versus what would have taken seven days were it not for 3-D modeling, Koledin says. “They were able to fabricate everything in the shop, all based on a real live model, and cut everything,” he says. “The installation then didn’t involve any cutting, any fitting. The parts were numbered in sequence. So, they just put them up in the air. Everything fits exactly into place.”

About 50 workmen are engaged in this particular project, which should take about 90 days, from foundation to completion, excluding site preparation. “There’s more planning, design and permitting than there is actual construction anymore,” Koledin says.

The project is one example why contractors and tradesmen across the Mahoning and Shenango valleys express optimism about this building season.

“We’re getting more inquiries about upcoming projects compared to the past couple years,” reports Joe DeSalvo, executive vice president at DeSalvo Construction Inc., Liberty. “Some of those inquiries have already borne fruit and turned into projects.”

DeSalvo says his company has “a nice mix of work,” among the commercial, retail and public sectors. “The private sector is the busiest this year,” he observes. “With interest rates still low, people are compelled to invest. There are a lot of incentives for development.”

Among the projects in which DeSalvo is engaged are the new Panera Bread restaurant in Boardman, the new Eye Care Associates building on North River Road in Warren, a recently completed addition at Sweeney Chevrolet in Boardman and an addition to Fred Martin Ford Mercedes Benz in Austintown.

DeSalvo Construction also recently completed the new tower at Salem Regional Medical Center and started a masonry package at Garrettsville-Garfield Elementary School for an addition there.

Other potential projects are signs of a sustained rebound in the commercial market, DeSalvo says. A proposed $6.5 million Comfort Suites at the former Ramada Inn in Liberty Township appears to be moving forward, while the company is looking to bid on a $10 million new school project for the New Springfield School District.

“I’m optimistic, but it’s tough,” DeSalvo says.

Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, reports the season started out brisk, but man-hours are down about 5% through the first six months of fiscal 2014 compared to the same period last year.

“That’s not too alarming considering the winter,” Reilly says. This winter’s sustained cold, he adds, delayed construction projects throughout the region. “It was one of the worst winters in recent memory,” he says, “and it slowed down a lot of construction.”

Still, work proceeded on the  projects under roof, such as the $125 million Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course project underway in Austintown. “That’s been a bright spot,” he says.

Reilly points to the abundance of new hotel work planned for the region, citing the Liberty project as well as new retail and restaurant projects.

However, the troubling side to these developments is that often the project owner doesn’t use local contractors and building tradesmen – a trend that Reilly detects is on the rise. “It’s a newer trend, for sure,” he says. “Those projects are ideal for our members. That’s right in their size range and they can handle those projects very easily.”

Yet many out-of-town developers opt to use contractors with whom they’ve established a working relationship, rather than hire from the local subcontractor or labor pool, Reilly observes. These owners have been “less than receptive” to bid requests from local contractors.

“In projects such as V&M, you’ll need an out-of-town company because of the scope of that work,” Reilly points out. “But, a lot of our members still worked on that project.”

Ongoing work at Humility of Mary St. Elizabeth’s Boardman and Youngstown campuses has kept contractors on the move, and some business is flowing from oil and gas exploration in the Utica, Reilly adds.

“A lot of that work is further south,” Reilly says of the Utica, but cited the $150 million Hickory Bend cryogenic plant in Springfield Township as a welcome project. “There were both out-of-town contractors with specialization and local members on that project,” he says.

Should capacity increase at Hickory Bend, it would likely mean an expansion at that operation and more work for the electrical trades, relates Jim Burgham, business manager for Local 64 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. 

“If they see good production, they could do more at Hickory Bend and possibly Petersburg” where Blue Racer Midstream has said it might build a cryogenic plant to separate natural gas liquids from dry gas. “There may be several dozen working on projects related to the Utica shale,” he says.

While Burgham says the number of man-hours is down since the $1 billion expansion at Vallourec Star more than a year ago, the business agent expects work to be at full throttle this summer. “There are hospital renovations and we’re also involved in metering stations,” he reports.

Contractors that use the electrical trades have their fair share of commercial projects through hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and some projects at Youngstown State University, Burgham adds.

As such, interest in the electrical trades among young people is on the increase.

“We’ve had more applications already this year than all of last year,” Burgham says, referring to apprentice and training programs.

“Some of the interest being generated in manufacturing in the Valley shows that you can have good jobs without a college degree. Finally, word is getting out.”

Pictured: Lynda Young, controllers at CCL Container, and GregKoledin, president of Wesex Corp., oversee expansion at CCL's Hermitage, Pa., plant.

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the June edition of The Business Journal.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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