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Bill Killian: Three multimillion-dollar projects are bright spots.
Bill Killian: Three multimillion-dollar projects are bright spots.

Killian, Walton headline construction job woes

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Contractors in Springfield slashed 900 jobs, or 11 percent of the construction work force, in the 12 months ending in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Two clear signs of the trend are the actions at Killian Group LLC and Walton Construction Co. LLC.

Springfield-based contractor Killian Group has slashed its nationwide work force in half from a peak of 100 in late 2007, said owner Bill Killian. Walton’s Springfield office is down to 12 employees from 52 in November 2008, said Dennis Thompson, chief operating officer of the Kansas City-based builder.

“We’ve been taking what we call evasive action in dealing with the economy and the construction market that’s in a big lull,” Killian said, noting that Killian Group’s current 55 employees include Arizona office staff and field personnel outside of Springfield.

Construction jobs in Springfield have fared better than across the state, where there were 23 percent fewer construction jobs during the 12 months ending in February, and the nation, which cut at a 25 percent clip in that time, the BLS reported. As of the end of February, BLS showed 7,200 construction industry employees in the Springfield market.

Walton’s reduction was part of a companywide restructuring four months ago that closed offices in St. Louis and Dallas and laid off 70 of its 550 employees.

“We’ve leaned up the organization from an overhead and expense standpoint,” Thompson said. “We’ve made great strides in getting that lined up.”

The big three
Bright spots for Killian are three current projects each valued at $10 million or more.

Killian said his company has hired an estimator and is working on Drury University’s O’Reilly Family Event Center, a Hilton Garden Inn Hotel for O’Reilly Hospitality LLC and a 120,000-square-foot addition to Palace Casino in Biloxi, Miss., for fellow Springfield businessman Robert Low of Prime Inc. Crews are just a few weeks into the 16-month casino project, which is estimated to cost $36 million at 110,000 square feet, according to the building permit on file with the Biloxi Community Development Building Division.

“It was a nice shot in the arm to get this casino project on the Gulf Coast,” Killian said.

Locally, the $12 million Drury arena is scheduled for completion in September, and the $9.8 million, five-story Hilton Garden Inn is set to open in February in southeast Springfield.

Despite the work in his pipeline, Killian said developer financing could stymie any recovery.

“Money’s still scarce,” he said. “It’s opening up a little bit in the $10 (million) to $15 million range, but the big projects are fairly scarce.”

Springfield hotelier John Q. Hammons, for whom Killian Group has a history of building properties around the country said this credit crunch is of historic proportions.

“I’ve never seen money as tight as it is now,” said 91-year-old developer Hammons. “I can’t get it, either.”

Killian said his company has worked with Hammons on more than 20 projects since 1988 when they worked on the clubhouse at Highland Springs Country Club. Most recently, Killian Group built Hammons’ Embassy Suites Hotel, Spa and Conference Center in Loveland, Colo.

Jobs radar
Officials at the Springfield Contractors Association say they’ve seen a few blips on its jobs radar.

SCA Employment Director Kathy Baer said about 15 member companies have called the office in recent weeks, each looking to hire two or three construction workers.

Wood Re New & Tile Too and Morelock-Ross Builders Inc. are among the companies slowly adding staff.

Wood Re New & Tile Too owner Bret McGowne said the deck restoration and tile installation company is seeking three full-time workers.

“Things are looking up,” McGowne said. “Personally, I’m a little bit hesitant because we always see a big spring rush, but it seems a little more like it has been in years past – last year excluded.”

McGowne said he is hearing similar sentiments from peers in construction.

“Nobody’s expecting to set the world on fire, but they seem to think things are moving up instead of down,” he added.

Morelock-Ross co-owner Kenny Ross said the industry is anxious to bounce back from “a deep recession for construction work” that is approaching two years.

“There’s certainly going to be some pent-up demand for successful businesses to need to expand or relocate. We’re starting to see those that are financially capable get some projects on the board,” he said, noting that his hiring interests are to place personnel in the field by summer.

Walton chief Thompson said the firm has identified an opportunity in government jobs out of the Springfield office, which he thinks could return to annual revenue production in excess of $50 million.

“Certainly, Fort Leonard Wood, but we’re also looking at going into Little Rock and expanding the business base of the Springfield market,” he said.

With Springfield now one of three Walton offices, with the K.C. headquarters and New Orleans, Thompson said geographic expansion would require hiring a staff with more mobility.

“That’s not unusual for our offices or this industry,” he said.

Editor Eric Olson contributed to this story.[[In-content Ad]]

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