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Valley builders see steady commercial business

  • Mark Ledwell, president of Wright Builders in Northampton, at his office. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mark Ledwell, president of Wright Builders in Northampton, at his office. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@ecutts_HG
Sunday, February 19, 2017

The commercial construction industry is built on the success of others, according to one area builder.

“The commercial construction world is really based upon success. The success of other businesses. If they succeed, then you succeed, because then there is work to do,” said Mark Ledwell, co-owner and president of Wright Builders Inc. in Northampton. “We’re all looking for others to succeed so we can participate.”

Following a slow recovery from the recession, Ledwell said, the cost of money has remained low, which is helpful for those who can get it.

“Coming out of the recession, the requirements for banks and other lenders really tightened up quite a bit,” he said. “That made it difficult for small businesses to borrow, compared to what they were used to doing. Generally speaking, all of this work comes from borrowed money.”

The recession and post-recession blues are over, according to Ledwell.

“People are indeed doing things. Work is taking place because life goes on. People have families, people move, businesses expand. Somebody comes up with a new idea. People immigrate to this country,” he said.

“We have first-generation immigrants we are building a restaurant for, it’s a family business. It’s a big deal to them. I don’t want to get too corny but it’s the American dream and they want to live it. That still happens, that’s a big deal in our country and in this valley. That continues onward.”

The commercial real estate market has also seemed to recover from its economic woes, according to Patrick M. Goggins, president of Goggins Real Estate The real estate company has been in the Valley for 45 years and handles both residential and commercial real estate.

“It did not seem to bring us spiraling downward,” Goggins said of the recession.

Now, Goggins said, despite some misconceptions, the area is in a period where there seems to be a “very positive commercial environment that is showing both new growth and the filling of existing space that are at rates that are still comfortable and appropriate to our marketplace.”

There is new commercial construction, Goggins said, but not in such a noticeable way because there is not much undeveloped commercial land and no undeveloped industrial land.

For Ledwell though, there isn’t one specific sign to tell him that things have turned around.

“There is no lightning bolt of growth or tremendous expansion. That is historically the story of our area anyway. It’s much more of a steady pace, nothing too hectic, nothing too high or low. I don’t see that changing.”

With money becoming more readily available, Ledwell has a positive outlook for the industry.

“I wouldn’t call it particularly robust or weak. It’s in its usual place. Businesses relocate, they expand, new ones open up and we’re working on all of those things now and look to be in the future,” he said.

“I would say it’s doing just fine.”

That outlook is shared by other builders in the Pioneer Valley.

Anna Cook, president of Integrity Development & Construction Inc., in Amherst, said phones have been ringing more than normal for the winter season.

“It’s looking pretty good. At this point of time, we’re booked into the early summer,” Cook said.

In addition to already planned work, the company is in discussion with people to do projects into the summer and fall of the coming year, she said.

“We do work year-round but people just aren’t thinking as much about work in the winter,” Cook said.

“That hasn’t been the case this year. We took three sales leads today.”

Ever since the economy has crashed and was able to turn around, according to Cook, every year has been its own year.

“There hasn’t really been a normal yet,” she said.

For Five Star Building Corp. in Easthampton, the year is starting off strong.

“I think we are pretty optimistic, think it is going to be a good year,” said Barry Christman, vice president of operations and development. “It’s staring off pretty robust right now. There seems to be a lot of different opportunities, both on the private and public side.”

The company, which has done various projects at Logan Airport, is currently working on 11 projects, according to Christman.

The strongest areas for construction, he said, are health care, academia and hospitality — something Ledwell echoed. The two agree that the health care industry in the Valley acts as a steadying influence but their views vary on the prospect of future work.

“From a health care standpoint, it is fairly steady, though the regulations are having a little bit of an impact on that,” Christman said. “On the health care end, it remains to be seen if it will continue to be robust as in years past.”

For Ledwell and Wright Builders, health care has been one of their biggest businesses. Ledwell said he suspects the institutional businesses from the colleges and private schools and business from the health care industry will continue.

Other trends in the Valley include the push toward sustainability, whether that be LEED ( Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects or photovoltaic arrays.

According to Ledwell, the days of metal buildings and “sag-and-bag insulation” are fading. Now, he said, clients are looking for high-performance buildings.

“I think that is a trend everywhere, in all of our work and everybody’s work,” he said. “We are a leader in this area. We are proud of our work.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.