That year, the Lancaster County company had revenue of nearly $98 million, a 104 percent increase from 2005. It seemed nothing could stop the hammers.
But it didn't take long for the foundation to leak out from under the building like wet concrete when the recession hit full force.
Trial by fire
"In September 2008, I became president," Benchmark's Michael Callahan said, "and two weeks later the stock market crashed. In the next five weeks, all I did was get phone calls from our clients canceling projects they were going to do."
By the end of 2009, West Earl Township-based Benchmark's revenue had dipped to just $53 million, a 46 percent drop from two years before.
The company needed to do something to stop the bleeding, Callahan said. Without some kind of change in how it did business, the company would be in serious trouble.
"As part of the (leadership) transition, I had led a group of about 18 people in the company through this strategic planning session. Previous to me becoming president … we really didn't have a business development department, and we didn't have preconstruction services, and we didn't have any construction management services," Callahan said.
Benchmark created those departments and services. The idea was to build new business relationships and better serve clients by coordinating design, architecture and estimating to save money and time while keeping clients satisfied with the final product. The goal, particularly with preconstruction services, is to produce a better product for the client.
"Our people are very much interested in our clients' business," Callahan said. "They don't just look at it as 'we're just building a building.' They say, 'How do you guys work?' We'll go visit their facilities ... we'll see how they operate, how they travel, what's important to them, what's a pain in the neck."
It worked, he said. By 2010, the company was holding steady and was even $1 million up over 2009 revenue. In 2011, sales soared once again. Revenue was $88.6 million and rising as Benchmark built new relationships and its quality preceded it into new projects.
"We made a significant investment at probably the wrong time because everybody just hunkered down," Callahan said. "We pretty much kept our staff together and just ran it through … so that when (the recession) did start to break, we had all these services."
Focus for the future
Benchmark always had a strong focus in health care and senior living facilities, but with its internal changes and a rebounding economy, that focus became much more honed, Callahan said.
"Our strongest business and our most consistent business has been senior living and health care," he said.
Of the company's 10 active construction projects, six are health care facilities or independent senior living residences. Those projects include:
• Ephrata Community Hospital's 54,000-square-foot expansion of its emergency department and a new ambulance garage, set for completion in August 2013.
• The 92,000-square-foot Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Center at Lancaster General Health, to be completed next summer.
• The Kirkwood Building, a 108,000-square-foot independent living apartment building set to be complete in January.
"Hospital expansion can be attributed to a variety of factors: increased patient population (inpatient areas; emergency departments; etc.); aging physical plant and need for upgrades; added services; etc.," Roger Baumgarten, a spokesman for the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, wrote in a recent email to the Business Journal.
But why each health care company or facility is expanding really depends on its unique circumstances, he said.
Medical facilities are always looking down the road to improve their services and health care to the public, said Jack Zimmer, president and CEO of Lancaster County-based construction trade group ABC Keystone. That long-term planning process creates a unique cycle for medical facilities that's largely outside the normal economics of commercial construction, he said.
Overall commercial construction hasn't seen the same uptick in activity that Benchmark has found, he said.
"The general trend is rather anemic over the last several years," Zimmer said.
Most other sectors of construction are still down, he said. Manufacturing and industrial construction is subdued. Institutional and public construction is behind, as is retail.
"There are a lot of sectors that are poised, but nothing has really distinguished itself or pulled away from other sectors," Zimmer said.
Benchmark may be faced with economic realities similar to other companies', but it's pushing on and finding work. That should have the company finishing 2012 at revenue of about $99 million, Callahan said.
The company is engaged in a number of government and education projects. It will be the general contractor on Millersville University's five-year, $180 million project to replace all of its residence halls.
It's also worked on a $3.1 million contract from Lititz-based manufacturer Sechan Electronics Inc., which makes electronic components for military and aerospace applications, to expand its facility by about 20,000 square feet.
"We get into all different kinds of projects, and we get to learn about those businesses," Callahan said. "And that makes it fun. It's unique. It's never the same old thing."