Hola Pittsburgh and a Workforce Solution

Yesterday’s Allegheny Conference Regional Investors’ Council meeting offered a few things beyond the usual regional cheerleading. More important to the construction industry were two programs that may help with workforce issues.

First there was an interesting video and short speech about the Hola Pittsburgh initiative. This is a effort aimed at attracting the professionals and workers leaving Puerto Rico because of the poor economy. The figures the Conference gave were about 50,000 people emigrating every year. Pittsburgh may not seem the most likely place for Puerto Ricans to land but there is a connection because of career of Roberto Clemente of all things. If successful, Hola Pittsburgh would have the unintended benefit of making the region seem more like home to Hispanic workers in all industries. And construction is an industry that has been attractive to Hispanic workers in other major cities.

The second initiative is the Service to Opportunity effort, which connects returning veterans to jobs. The thrust of the initiative is to match valuable skills learned in combat and service to the civilian opportunities, especially in energy and construction.

Construction is facing a serious workforce shortage as Baby Boomers retire with no backfill of labor ready to move in. Trades have been increasing recruiting but this segment of the population – veterans – comes equipped with transferable skills and excellent attitude. Both these regional initiatives have potential to draw people to our industry.

Not much construction news this week. UPMC selected Alexander Building Construction as CM for its $20 million Altoona Hospital job. Another big piece of the Route 219 extension in Somerset has been put out by PennDOT. The $80 million Garrett Bridges project is due October 23.

RMU Awards School of Nursing

Robert Morris University selected Landau Building Co. to be the contractor for its new $6.5 million, 28,000 sq. ft. school of nursing building.

Massaro Corp. was chosen by Phipps Conservatory as contractor for its $3.5 million exhibit and staging space in Oakland. The project will be part of its Living Building Challenge.

Duquesne Univ. put out a $2 million-plus bid to renovate the fifth floor of Libermann Hall for a nursing simulation space. The list of invited contractors for general, mechanical and electrical work is at the PBX at http://tinyurl.com/nkfmsuw

Updating the News

Mosites Construction was low on the $14.1 million Fort Pitt Tunnel renovation for PennDOT on Thursday, with Trumbull and Joseph B. Fay second and third.

The list of contractors submitting proposals to Davis Companies for the renovation of the Union Trust Building includes PJ Dick, Jendoco, Mascaro, Massaro and Turner. Proposals go in on Friday for the $20 million medical office building planned for the UPMC Altoona Hospital campus. Alexander, Mascaro, Massaro and Turner are the contractors involved.

Fay Lands $58.6M Locks Project

The Corps of Engineers announced yesterday that it had awarded a $58.6 million contractor for the construction of a massive lock wall on the lower Monongahela near Charleroi. the project will last four years and involves the demolition of Lock #3.

In other project news, the Pittsburgh Builders Exchange reported that the Fox Chapel Golf Club selected Franjo Construction for its $7 million addition. The Ligonier Valley YMCA decided not to pursue other bids and has chosen A. Martini & Co. for its $7.5 million expansion/renovation. Massaro Design/Build has started work on a new 25,000 sq. ft. warehouse and plant for Synergy Inc. in the Victory Road Business Park in Saxonburg. MBM Contracting was awarded the tenant buildout work for 4Moms at Elmhurst’s 912 Ft. Duquesne Boulevard building.

The Butler Health System is interviewing MBM, TEDCO and Turner on August 28 for a $15 million medical office building at its Butler Hospital campus.

A Good Guy Gets His Due

Proving Leo Durocher wrong, the MBA announced yesterday that Angelo Martini Sr. had been selected by the AIA/MBA Joint Committee as this year’s recipient of the James Kling Fellowship Award. The Kling Fellowship recognizes professionals from the contracting and design communities who have demonstrated the utmost in cooperation between the two professions. Angelo Martini is one of those people who you meet in this industry that everyone likes. That’s a group to which there are few members. Congratulations to Angelo.

Construction remains pregnant instead of prolific at this point. Turner has started work on Cenveo’s 300,000 sq. ft. tenant work at the RIDC Westmoreland, which is the former Sony plant. The few jobs that are out to bid are attracting fierce competition and owners seem to be interested in taking the fullest advantage. The Ligonier Valley YMCA took proposals on an $7-8 million addition that came in over $8 million. While getting VE suggestions from Jendoco, Volpatt & A. Martini & Co., the YMCA put the job out to bid to General Industries & DiMarco Construction. As you can imagine, the subs working on the value engineering were less than thrilled to get invitations to bid from other contractors. Earlier this week, WVU took bids on a small renovation to its Clinical Trials Unit at the BRNI. The project attracted 14 bids from all shapes & sizes of contractors from Pittsburgh and Morgantown. The results are below:

Manheim Corp. – $1,324,000; Mascaro Construction – $1,429,000; TEDCO Construction – $1,430,000.

 

A Slow First Half

Construction of all kinds lagged significantly behind the activity in the first half of last year. Housing starts in Pittsburgh plunged 37.3 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. The drop in activity was driven by a significant drop in apartment starts coupled with a downturn in single-family permits that is attributable to weather and market conditions.

New home construction is still lagging the pent up demand for housing of all kinds. Some of the decline in starts can be explained by the severe winter, but much of the decline is due to the profile of the custom builder and the lot shortage in Metro Pittsburgh. The average builder is smaller here than most markets and it’s difficult for smaller builders to catch up when weather holds down buying for an extended period. More importantly, the dominant share of NVR’s Ryan/Heartland brands has made it very appealing to develop new lots for that juggernaut and unappealing to develop traditional neighborhoods that feature multiple custom builders.

Total residential starts fell to 1,813 during the first six months of 2014. Because several large multi-family projects got underway in the second quarter of 2013, the year-over-year comparison reflects a steeper decline than the Pittsburgh market might normally support. With another 2,000 units in the multi-family pipeline, permits for attached and multi-family units will still top 2,000 units for the full year, a total that is roughly 25 percent above the historical norm.

The top municipalities for residential construction during the first half of 2014.

The top municipalities for residential construction during the first half of 2014.

Demographics are really behind this part of the market. For as many apartments as have started since late 2012, leasing remains brisk, even accelerated compared to 2013.

Nonresidential contracts reached only $1.02 billion from January to June 2014, down 29.7percent from $1.45 billion during the same period in 2013. The pace of activity seems to be finally increasing, although the market is nothing like the boom of construction that took place after the last recession. Because of the cold winter and slow spring bidding, there is little expectation of a significant turnaround in 2014 but the pipeline is filling up with projects that bode well for 2015. Jobs like CMU’s Tepper School and the Cohon Center, the next phases of Bakery Square 2.0 or the Three Crossings are some examples of projects that will get underway in the next six months.

The big trigger will be the Shell cracker in Monaca, I believe. There are bigger industrial users looking for space now but the demand for manufacturing and industrial space will explode once plans for the site are announced. Jacobs Engineering took bids on some early packages over a week ago and confidence is still very high that work will go ahead by the end of this year on the preparation for the chemical processing facility, even if only to prepare it for Shell to sell to another producer. That prep work should be in the billion dollar neighborhood.

Amazon Lands

Online retailer Amazon has apparently selected the former Roomful Express warehouse in Crafton for its fulfillment & distribution center in Pittsburgh. While no one directly involved in the deal can confirm the selection, brokers involved in other space searches say that the Crafton warehouse has gone off the market. The deal is reported to be for 300,000 sq. ft.

Amazon’s decision to move to Pittsburgh doesn’t mean a ton of jobs but it puts the industry leader in online sales in this region. With online shopping expanding into all retail segments, the trend is for more regional fulfillment centers. Amazon’s CEO Mark Bezos plans to sell “everything to everyone” and is aggressively moving to one-day or same-day fulfillment. That he chose Pittsburgh is likely a sign that competitors will view this region as an expansion site.

Building automation and controls giant, Johnson Controls, is close to making a decision about the design/build team for its new $100 million office/research facility in York PA. The University of Pittsburgh is making a final selection for construction manager for the $17 million Murtha Center project at its Johnstown campus after interviewing Massaro Corp. PJ Dick and Volpatt Construction.