Construction firm gets a boost from federal spending

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The Associated General Contractors of America released some ugly numbers recently. The group pegged the unemployment rate for the construction industry at 17.3 percent, almost twice that of the overall economy.

According to the AGC, rising commodity prices, declining demand and flat prices for finished products are some of the factors that continue to weigh on the sector.

On the bright side, the association cited at least one pocket of growth. Government programs and spending have shielded the industry from further decline, and at least one local firm has been a direct beneficiary of this.

Last week, Colorado Springs-based JPE Inc., a contractor that specializes in federal construction work, landed a project at the Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, Texas. The contract could reach up to $30 million when fully realized.

That’s a big chunk for a company that, since its inception in 1998, had received contracts totaling just $44 million.

“I can’t speak as to overall government construction spending,” said company spokesman Michael Perini, “but for this company it’s been significant. This will be our best year yet.”

Chief Operating Officer Ron Holland confirmed this, saying that JPE has actually grown its revenue in 2010. He said the company is on target to reach revenue of $11 million, an increase of 68 percent year to date over 2009.

In the past, JPE has received government contracts for VA Medical Centers, federal office buildings and national institutions.

The company will hire six new employees to repair roofing structures at Fort Bliss. Some of the buildings there date back to before World War II.

Discount retailer eyes Colorado Springs

Winmark Corp., the Minneapolis-based discount retail franchiser, is targeting the Colorado Springs market for four new stores over the next three years.

The publicly traded company has either secured or is looking for franchisees for its Once Upon a Child, Plato’s Closet, Music Go Round, and Play It Again Sports outlets.

Colorado Springs residents Porscha and Steve Shideler are the first franchisees to jump in. The Shidelers hope to open their Once Upon a Child in the next six months, although small-business owners are still dealing with uncooperative lenders.

“We spent a lot of time putting a (loan) package together for one bank and then they turned around and said they don’t do anything under $250,000,” Porscha said. “It’s a little frustrating. We’ve hit a few speed bumps, but hopefully we’re ironing them out.”

Winmark director of franchise development Pete First said the backstop of a large corporation is usually enough to convince trigger-shy lenders to close a deal. Investments in a Winmark franchise cost between $200,000 and $300,000.

“We require a 30-percent cash investment, and we were doing that years ago when banks were offering loans for nothing down,” he said. “We have a training program to help our franchisees put together a business plan and projections, and we help them in dealing with the banks. If they have collateral, we can usually find financing through the strength of the business plan.”

There are two Play It Again Sports and one Plato’s Closet in the Springs, and the Shidelers will open the first Once Upon a Child. Winmark hopes to find franchisees to open a Music Go Round, another Plato’s Closet, and another Once Upon A Child in the area.

The stores typically employ three or four full-time workers, but the number of part-time employees can range from 10 to 20. The Shidelers expect to be full-time, hands-on managers, and will be in the market for 10 mostly part-time employees.

Deal of the day

Has the real estate market bottomed? Is it a good time to buy? Who knows, but when office buildings are marked down nearly 60 percent, it’s time to take a look.

Hoff & Leigh owner Tim Leigh is advertising a 13,645-square-foot space at 2210 La Salle St., east of the Patty Jewett Municipal Golf Course. About half of the two-floor building is leased, and the price was chopped in half just last week.

The building can be yours for $359,000, or $500,000 less than the assessed value of $859,000.

Jonathan Easley can be reached at jonathan.easley@csbj.com or 719-329-5208. Find him on Facebook or Twitter.