The surging demands of urbanization combined with rapid technological advancements have created a vital need for progressive infrastructure solutions in the 21st century.
Sterling Infrastructure specializes in the design, development, and management of advanced infrastructure projects, focusing on three segments that aim to forge a new path forward with environmentally responsible construction, services, and smart solutions for clients in the United States. In recent years, the company has undergone a transformation and expansion beyond heavy civil projects that has broadened its focus and resulted in unprecedented growth.
Now, the company’s E-infrastructure Solutions provide advanced, large-scale site development services for a range of modern and high tech infrastructure requirements. Its Transportation Solutions business includes infrastructure and rehabilitation projects for all manner of road, air, and marine needs. While Building Solutions projects include a vast array of residential and commercial concrete foundation applications.
Its clientele spans a broad spectrum, from local municipalities looking to modernize aging utilities to tech companies seeking cutting-edge facilities for data centers.
While Sterling’s transformation has seen it evolve into the organization it is today, the company continues to execute a strategic vision introduced in 2016. This strategy aims to solidify its historic base business of low-bid heavy highway projects, grow higher margin products and services, and expand into adjacent markets that can strengthen its portfolio, broaden geographic regions, while providing further diversification of cash flows.
In the 1950s, Sterling Heights, Michigan saw the establishment of Oakhurst Company by two brothers, James and Richard Manning. As the years progressed, Oakhurst recognized economic potential in Houston, Texas, and relocated there. Fueled by an economic boom in the region, the company grew into one of Houston’s leading contractors, undertaking significant projects that included the construction of underground drainage and sewage systems, paving, and even light rail infrastructure.
Oakhurst and Steel City Products Inc. joined forces to form Sterling Construction Company Inc, acting as a catalyst for continued growth, culminating in the company going public in 2001.
In the years following, Sterling went on an acquisition spree, purchasing Road and Highway Buildings LLC, followed by Ralph L. Wadsworth in 2009, which firmly positioned the company in the construction arena, being ranked among the top 200 contractors in the U.S.
Banicki, a leading provider of technically advanced, partnership-driven solutions for civil infrastructure, and Tealstone, a market leader in commercial and residential concrete construction, also added to Sterling’s portfolio. While in 2019, Plateau Excavation, the Southeastern U.S.’s premier excavating contractor known for its specialty in large-scale site infrastructure improvement, also joined Sterling’s ranks. Catering to sectors like e-commerce, data centers, and energy, Plateau’s inclusion further strengthened Sterling’s market position.
In an effort to broaden its geographic reach, Sterling made two more strategic acquisitions most recently in 2021, including Petillo, a specialty site development solutions provider active in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, and Kimes & Stone, a soil stabilization business operating in the Southeast. These acquisitions enhanced Sterling’s e-infrastructure clientele and expanded its capabilities and service offerings.
Recognizing its evolution from its roots as a highway and bridge construction entity to a leader in infrastructure solutions, the company rebranded itself as Sterling Infrastructure in 2022.
Bringing over three decades of deep experience in heavy civil construction, industrial, and water infrastructure markets, Joseph A. Cutillo serves as chief executive officer of Sterling. Since he joined the company in 2015 as VP of Strategy & Business Development, Cutillo has overseen significant strategic transformations, acquisitions, and the expansion of the company’s service portfolio. His understanding of the industry’s market dynamics and strategic foresight have been instrumental in cementing Sterling’s position as a leading infrastructure solutions provider. Prior to Sterling, he was president and CEO of Inland Pipe Rehabilitation, and he also currently serves on multiple company boards.
In a rapidly evolving urban and digital environment, infrastructure solutions now need to bridge the gap between physical development and e-infrastructure, while ensuring the seamless integration of transportation systems that can handle exploding populations. Sterling has firmly positioned itself as a pioneer in catering to these multifaceted demands, offering an extensive suite of capabilities across its three business units:
E-Infrastructure Solutions: provides large-scale specialty site infrastructure improvement contracting services, including site selection and preparation for next-generation manufacturing, data centers, e-commerce distribution, warehousing, and energy sectors, among others. As its fastest-growing and most profitable segment, E-infrastructure is playing a critical role in Sterling’s strategic growth goals. Partnering with clients from site selection through to turnkey construction, the company is large enough to manage the most complex site development projects, yet nimble enough to handle smaller ones avoided by bigger construction companies.
Transportation Solutions: focuses on infrastructure and rehabilitation projects for highways, roads, bridges, airports, ports, light rail, water, waste, and storm drainage systems. With core customers including the Departments of Transportation in various states, regional transit, airport, port, and water authorities, and railroads, the business benefits heavily from federal and state infrastructure spending. Moreover, a growing focus on alternative delivery and aviation solutions is achieving higher margins and better returns.
Building Solutions: delivers residential and commercial concrete foundations for single-family and multi-family homes, parking structures, elevated slabs, and other concrete work. It is also a fast-growing and highly profitable sector enabling the company’s strategic growth, as partnerships with the country’s top home builders have fueled expansion into lucrative markets across the U.S.
Sterling has strategically positioned itself for sustained growth, aiming to capitalize on emerging market trends and evolving infrastructure needs. Historically, Sterling’s base was the low-bid heavy highway projects within its Transportation Solutions segment. However, recognizing the limitation on margin expansion in such a competitive bidding environment, the company began a major transformation in 2016. By enhancing bid discipline to curtail project losses, Sterling has adopted a more risk-averse stance, laying the foundation for a more profitable future.
By progressively reducing its dependence on low-bid heavy highway projects, which once comprised nearly 79% of its revenue, Sterling has judiciously targeted higher-margin projects. By December 2022, revenue from low-bid projects was just 11%, with a marked emphasis on projects in alternative domains like airports, commercial sites, piling, and shoring, boasting gross margins between 12% and 15%.
Expansion through strategic acquisitions is also of particular focus as it continues to identify opportunities for growth in adjacent markets. Its decentralized and adaptive business model offers the agility required for such endeavors and has been key in successfully executing the acquisition spree it has undertaken in recent years. With four major additions, among others, in the last six years, Sterling’s geographic footprint, broadened customer base, service offerings, and capabilities have gone from strength to strength and vastly helped diversify its cash flows.
On the economic front, funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is providing an ideal backdrop. More than $65 billion in investment is being contributed to growth and demand for data centers, manufacturing, and distribution centers within the E-infrastructure space. Benefitting its Transportation Solutions business, the Infrastructure Bill has allocated a staggering $643 billion for transportation programs and an additional $25 billion for airports over the next half-decade. Coupled with $185 billion in IIJA funding for over 7,000 transportation projects announced in 2022, Sterling is strategically placed to benefit from these federal initiatives. While the Building Solutions segment is poised to harness the favorable demand dynamics in its operating geographies, as 2023 is showing a resurgence in housing starts, complemented by growth in multifamily residential sectors, and significant market share gain opportunities.
Other ongoing secular trends, such as the resurgence in domestic manufacturing capacity, the exponential growth in data demands, and the burgeoning investments in e-commerce and manufacturing development, are also positioning Sterling favorably in the market.
Sterling’s transformation efforts have delivered a marked improvement in the company’s growth since 2016, culminating in a record total revenue of $1.77 billion in 2022. All three business units continue to see revenue growth and operating margin expansion in 2023, as strong customer demand and excellent execution have management forecasting to close the year out with revenue of $1.95 billion to $2.05 billion.
E-Infrastructure Solutions are being supported by large, multi-phase next-generation manufacturing and data center projects. The Transportation Solutions business is reflecting solid demand trends across key geographies and a continued mix shift toward higher margin work. While Building Solutions is being driven by a record number of residential slabs poured and higher levels of commercial work.
The company’s gross profits are also improving dramatically, delivering double-digit increases for the last three years in a row driven by higher volume, improved project margin mix across all segments, and an improving supply chain. Far more tempered growth in Sterling’s operating costs has also resulted in delivering its highest-ever net profit in 2022 of $106.5 million.
Looking ahead, in line with management forecasts, consensus estimates have Sterling achieving $2.0 billion in sales, representing year-over-year growth of 13% for FY23. Also in line with management expectations for earnings per share at $4.00 to $4.20 per share, analysts are forecasting EPS to improve by 17% to $4.09 per share.
Sterling operates in a diverse and dynamic construction environment where competition encompasses a spectrum ranging from nimble local contractors to behemoth international construction conglomerates. Sterling has crafted a niche for itself, focusing on projects that fall between the scales catered to by small local contractors and large international firms. This distinct positioning allows Sterling to harness opportunities that might be deemed too substantial for the smaller entities, yet not sizable enough to allure the large-scale companies.
In less favorable market conditions, there might be an influx of both the small local contractors and the bigger players into Sterling’s chosen middle ground which could put competitive pressures on bidding, in turn, constricting revenue growth and depressing margins.
However, unlike the smaller local players, Sterling boasts a scale that enables it to take on more substantial projects. Conversely, it retains a level of nimbleness that some of its larger competitors might lack, allowing it to be more adaptive and responsive in bidding for medium-scale projects. By maintaining this delicate balance, Sterling endeavors to carve out a defensible space in a turbulent market landscape.
Sterling’s successful transformation from a focused construction company to a leader in modern infrastructure solutions could not be more apparent. Hallmarked by rapid growth and a favorable outlook supported by robust public funding and several secular trends, its success looks well-placed to continue strongly.