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Builders on list see strong sales

The residential-construction market took a nosedive across the nation throughout the past year. In May, the National Association of Realtors’ national pending-home-sales index was down 13.5 percent compared with a year before.

The residential-construction market took a nosedive across the nation throughout the past year. In May, the National Association of Realtors’ national pending-home-sales index was down 13.5 percent compared with a year before. Some industry experts say predict sales could sink by 20 percent in the next year.

Central Pennsylvania was not hit as hard by the fall, but sales cooled down compared with the record sales the region saw three to five years ago.

Residential-construction companies that made Central Penn Business Journal’s Top 100 Privately Held Companies list did not change course in the wake of the downturn. Sales are still strong in the region, observers said.

“We’re booming,” said Ray Fertig, vice president of residential construction at Richard D. Poole, a general construction company in York Township that specializes in commercial and residential construction. Richard D. Poole ranks 57th on this year’s list.

The York County company managed to keep its residential-construction business growing through repeat customers, referrals and renovation work, Fertig said. Some of the company’s residential business came through contacts made on commercial projects. Residential construction grew 15 percent to 20 percent at the company in 2006, he said.

Other residential companies may not have fared as well. The local industry workforce reflects the residential slowdown, said Doug Cherry, director of business development for Wickersham Construction and Engineering Inc. in Lancaster.

Wickersham is a commercial contractor that ranks 77th on this year’s list. It’s hard to find skilled field workers in commercial construction, Cherry said, but the company picked up a number of workers looking for work from the residential sector in the past year.

“If you read the various trade magazines and the economic forecasts, commercial construction has offset the national trend,” Cherry said.

High Construction Co., an affiliate of High Real Estate Group, provides a variety of construction services to its customers. High Real Estate’s parent company, The High Cos. ranks No. 1 on this year’s privately held list.

High Construction does not build single-family homes, but the company has constructed multi-family residential communities, said Matt Twomey, president of High Construction. While the residential market has dipped, the commercial market has soared, Twomey said.

“The residential slowdown was caused primarily by market factors that do not correlate to non-residential construction, although the impact of the rising cost of materials is common to all construction types,” Twomey said. “Although the media focus has been on the residential slowdown, quite the opposite is true of non-residential construction.”

Almost every portion of the non-residential market is growing, and Central Pennsylvania remains a strong marketplace for the manufacturing, lodging, office, educational and health-care sectors, Twomey said.

One might expect a company that strictly focuses on residential construction to have taken a hit, but the opposite is true for Charter Homes Group in Manheim Township. Charter ranks 26th on this year’s list and grew its business by 7 percent from 2005 to 2006.

The company achieved this by doing what it knows best, and that is building homes, Charter president Robert P. Bowman said. Charter has built residences in the region for about 20 years.

National residential builders came and went in the region throughout the past three years, but Charter knew the market better, Bowman said.

“When the market changed, we knew what the people needed in Central Pennsylvania,” Bowman said. “When the market goes down 20 percent, there is still that 80 percent core. We built neighborhoods in the right locations and built good, quality homes.”

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