Top 50: Slumping economy works its will on private companies

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Steve Snavely is upfront about his company's disappointing performance in 2007 -- revenues dropped 21 percent, to $195 million.

"Not the kind of news we like to report," said Mr. Snavely, president of West Mifflin-based Snavely Forest Products.

"But it happens."

Snavely, which supplies the building products industry, is one of several privately held companies in the Pittsburgh area hit hard last year by housing woes and a slumping economy.

Sales at 84 Lumber, the region's second largest privately held company, dipped 20.5 percent to $3.1 billion. The region's largest residential real estate company, privately held Hanna Holdings, also grappled with the national housing meltdown as revenues dropped 2.6 percent in 2007 on top of a 2 percent drop in 2006. At Babcock Lumber, sales were down 15.8 percent to $154 million.

Companies relying on commercial real estate and large infrastructure work, however, did better. Revenues at contractor Dick Corp. improved 11.5 percent, to $678 million. Rival P.J. Dick ended with $556 million, up 11.4 percent. Another rival, Mascaro Construction, was up 33.2 percent, to $303 million in revenue, while Coraopolis builder American Bridge jumped 28 percent, to $435 million, and nuclear power plant designer Westinghouse Electric tacked on 10 percent, to $2.2 billion.

Benefiting from the recent run-up in gas and food prices was Giant Eagle, once again the region's largest privately held company. Revenues were up 14.5 percent, to $7.1 billion.

Mergers with law firms in London and Seattle also lifted Reed Smith and K&L Gates, the city's two largest collections of attorneys, to No. 10 and No. 12 on the Post-Gazette's list this year. Reed Smith reported $892 million, up 38.6 percent, while K&L Gates reported $755.3 million, up 51.3 percent.

While concerns about a U.S. recession persist, Chuck Hammel of Strip District trucking firm Pitt Ohio Express believes the worst is over. Transportation, he said, typically experiences any slowdown before other industries, and he said that happened with Pitt Ohio in mid-2006. Last year, core revenues were up 8.9 percent at Pitt Ohio, to $294.2 million, while New Kensington-based ECM Transport, 51 percent owned by Pitt Ohio, brought in another $57.6 million.

"The economy has found a bottom," he said.

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Dan Fitzpatrick can be reached at or 412-263-1752.


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