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Project Diversity Helps Put Penick & Sons Among Top Contractors

Locally based construction contractors, including T.B. Penick & Sons Inc., continue to capitalize on a steadily improving economy, largely by maintaining a diverse roster of projects that span well beyond San Diego County’s borders.

The San Diego region remains a crucial work hub for the Rancho Bernardo-headquartered T.B. Penick, a family-run company founded in 1905. But in recent years the general contractor has established 11 regional offices throughout the United States — in places like New York, San Francisco, Denver and Austin, Texas — as it widens its national presence in sectors including commercial buildings, military facilities, civic and education projects.

That diversity helped land the contractor on the latest annual Top 400 list of the nation’s largest general contractors based on 2013 revenue, published in McGraw Hill Construction’s widely read industry magazine, Engineering News-Record.

Penick was the largest company with local headquarters to make the list, ranking No. 222 with $275.8 million in revenue. The list also included San Diego’s Harper Construction Co. Inc. at No. 233, with $258.9 million; and Soltek Pacific Construction Co. at No. 302, with $193.6 million.

Lusardi Construction Co. of San Marcos placed at No. 314, with $183.6 million; and Carlsbad-based RQ Construction came in at No. 343, with $158.8 million.

Rebuilding Big Apple Proves Fruitful

Local contractors generally have reported an uptick in educational, health care and civic projects over the past two years, although activity has not returned to levels seen before the recession hit in late 2007.

The diversity is deemed crucial in a climate where a once massive wave of local military base improvement projects, greenlighted by the Pentagon primarily from 2007 to 2011, continues to recede as work is completed.

Last year, for example, T.B. Penick and its affiliated sister company, Triton Structural of New York, were awarded two contracts totaling about $120 million, geared toward refurbishing New York City beach areas destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in late 2012.

In addition, company officials said Penick has recently been tapped for several office construction projects in and near Manhattan, as New York continues to rebuild and recover from the devastating events of September 2001.

“The New York City commercial market has been improving the last few years, especially the office market,” company President Tim Penick said.

He noted that New York-area projects now comprise 19 percent of T.B. Penick’s $541 million project backlog, with San Diego County accounting for 21 percent and California projects outside the local region accounting for 56 percent.

While military work still makes up about 11 percent of its projects nationwide, Penick noted that commercial work — like office and hospitality buildings — now take up 44 percent of the backlog, with education projects representing nearly 26 percent.

The percentages have changed significantly from the days during the recession, when the Department of Defense was among the few clients authorizing big construction projects.

In the local market, T.B. Penick recently completed the $26 million, 32-acre Alga Norte Community Park in Carlsbad, which followed other large projects at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and San Diego International Airport.

‘Sustained, Slow Recovery’

At Soltek Pacific Construction, headquartered in Old Town, CEO Steve Thompson said the company has recently seen a noticeable rise in assignments, about equally balanced among education, civic, biomedical and commercial industrial projects.

Soltek, which has also has a regional office in the Central California city of Clovis, recently completed large projects for local clients including Old Town Community Church, San Diego International Airport, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and the Language Academy in San Diego.

Still, competition for work remains tight, and the contracting community is not ready to declare the return of

pre-recession salad days.

“I would say it’s still a sustained, slow recovery right now,” Thompson said.

San Diego County had more than $1.3 billion worth of residential and nonresidential construction projects in the pipeline at the end of the first quarter, up 39 percent from a year ago, according to McGraw Hill Construction.

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