Key lands $50 million in projects

Wichita's Key Construction has landed five public and private building projects worth about $50 million, company officials said Monday.

It's the company's first large group of projects landed in about a year, welcome work in an industry ravaged by the commercial credit freeze.

"It's a whole lot better picture now than it was a year ago," Key Construction president Dave Wells said Monday. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

The new Key projects, all which should begin in the next week, include:

* Kansas Air National Guard renovations at McConnell Air Force Base, $8.2 million. The renovations involve two buildings, turning one into a technical facility and the other into a training facility.

* Rayzor Hall and Samson Plaza at the University of Tulsa, $12 million.

* Housing and locker rooms at Rogers State University, Claremore, Okla., $12 million.

* Townplace Suites, Gonzales, La., $5 million.

* Walmart Supercenter at Floresville, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio, $13 million, including $6 million for the building.

The projects are driven mostly by public work, Wells said, proof that the recession hasn't abated.

"The private side is still way depressed," Wells said. "It's more the institutions or the government or the recession-proof people stepping back in.

"There's still a real lack of available financing out there. The banks won't say it this way, but it's, 'Sure, we'll make you a loan, but you better have 50 percent equity.' "

The Key announcement comes just days after national construction officials announced that industry employment fell by 11,000 people in June and July, with an unemployment rate of 17.3 percent.

"The fact that this industry continues to suffer from unemployment rates nearly double the national average is a reflection of how much demand for construction has cratered in little more than two years," Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, said in a statement.

"Worse yet, there's every indication that as the benefits of the stimulus fade the industry's employment picture will get even worse."

The new Key projects come at a time the company is finishing up several others, so Wells doesn't anticipate any additional hiring. Currently, Key has around 200 employees.

"It's perfect timing for us because we're wrapping other jobs up," Wells said. "It's definitely a help. I just wish it would have happened in January and not July, just to build backlog."

Wells said the company still expects to land two other major projects and will actively pursue other Walmart projects because the discount retailer is building again.

"They slowed way down, but now they see that it's time to ramp it back up," Wells said.

"They went from supercenters to remodels, and now they're back to supercenters and neighborhood markets. In Wichita, those aren't out here yet, but there are four or five of those neighborhood stores they're talking about."