View the 2012 MFE Top 25 General Contractors List

According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America in March, last year construction employment increased in 169 of the 337 metro areas in the United States, reflecting at least in part the flurry of multifamily development that took place in 2011. That’s good news for all those GCs who’ve spent the past few years fighting for new construction bids. And while competition for new jobs last year was fierce, new starts for third-party accounts was where the money was for this group. One look at the promising number of units these contractors started in 2011 proves that developers looking to break ground on new properties translates to opportunities.

Indeed, almost all the GCs making up this year’s top 10 did 100 percent of their new starts for third-party multifamily accounts. And the majority of the general contractors on our list showed either a percentage increase in starts or largely unchanged figures from 2010 to 2011.

El Paso, Texas–based CF Jordan Construction (No. 3), for example, worked on 1,790 new units for third-party accounts. And the company says it expects that number to improve even further in 2012, to 2,100 new starts. Greensboro, N.C.–based Samet Corp. (No. 7) saw its new units increase too. It completed 1,673 new starts last year and was able to ramp up its numbers by expanding its construction efforts to new, more remote regions of the country. “We expanded into new markets, like the Charleston, S.C., area and completed several signature projects, such as The Villagio in Fayetteville, N.C.,” says marketing coordinator Crystal Sills. “We plan to make our clients (developers) more aware of our capabilities to support their projects no matter where they’re located.” Samet entered the Charlotte, Raleigh, and Asheville, N.C., metros; Charleston, S.C.; and Fayetteville, N.C., starting affordable, market-rate, and student housing.

Terre Haute, Ind.–based Thompson Thrift Construction (No. 25) just managed to hang on to a spot in the Top 25 by completing 470 new third-party starts in 2011. That marks a drop-off of 1,546 from the 2,016 units it completed for third-party accounts in 2010. But according to the company, 2011 was considered an overall good year. The company hired and integrated into its operations a sizable number of new staff (a 32 percent increase in 2011) and restructured its management modes in a way that would allow for better focus on resources and experience, according to Thompson Thrift.

Marriottsville, Md.–based Harkins Builders was also a bright spot in the industry as the No. 2 general contractor in 2011. During the year, the company grew its backlog by 15 percent, implemented new project management software, and had just about as many new starts as it did in 2010, dropping only from 1,828 to 1,814.

Not every GC saw its workload increase in 2011, however. The No. 1 company on the list, Western National Group (WNG), via its Western National Construction branch, actually reduced its new starts year over year by 324 units. But Irvine, Calif.–based WNG expects to complete more than 3,200 new starts in 2012, making it an early favorite to reappear very high on the Top 25 list again next year. Beside reducing the number of units it built, WNG had 63 communities receive the A list award from CEL & Associates for the satisfaction and opinion survey.

The companies that seemed to do the best in 2011 were those that were able to maintain a strong reputation and track record to weather the storm that was the housing industry just a few years ago. Those that did so survived through continued relationship building, networking, and general outreach. And, of course, by maintaining the highest standards for quality.