Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bell construction widens its scope

One of Nashville's largest homegrown general contractors has added health-care projects to its repertoire in a bid to pursue opportunities in a promising industry sector.
Brentwood-based Bell & Associates Construction — more widely known for building roads, prisons and commercial offices — has absorbed Nashville-based Medical Construction Group Inc. The partnership has spawned a new division, MCG-Bell Healthcare, which will target construction of a wide range of health-care facilities from hospitals to medical offices.

"We'd like for it to account for 25 percent of our revenues in five years," said Keith Pyle, president and a partner in Bell & Associates.

Bell & Associates' revenues peaked at $307 million in 2007, but fell 26 percent on average in each of the past two years to $168 million for 2009. The decline was a result of recession and a general slowdown in construction. One plus was a short-term boost in road building fueled in large part by a $40 million, one-time benefit from federal stimulus dollars.

Uncertainty over federal health-care reform and difficulties in financing deals took a bite out of medical construction projects, as well, but Bell's brain trust and Wade Putnam, who started Medical Construction Group 27 years ago, expect things to turn around.

"For us, health care is at the bottom of the rollercoaster, and it's going to head back up," said Putnam, who'll now act as executive vice president of Bell & Associates and MCG-Bell. "Now would be a good time to be in the health-care business."

Demographics, the U.S. aging population and passage of a federal health reform package all lend more certainty to what had been an unpredictable environment.

"Given the aging baby boomers and now that we've got the health-care bill passed, there's a lot of activity," said Darek Bell, vice president and a partner in Bell & Associates. "We do see that market coming on stronger and faster than a lot of the other ones."

In many cases, hospitals and other health-care providers are moving forward with projects that had been on hold.

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