Markovich Construction is used to searching out jobs in Montana, even taking its Butte-based business and crews to Idaho, North Dakota or Wyoming if needed.
That has changed in the past two years.
“Last year when someone asked me how business was I told them we have more work within 100 miles of Butte than we have had in the past decade,” said company contractor Corey Markovich. “This year I’ve been telling them we have more work in Butte than we have had in a decade.”
There are plenty of buildings going up in other Montana cities, including Missoula and Bozeman.
“Construction in Bozeman is on fire,” he said.
But he and several others say there hasn’t been this much building construction in Butte — all at the same time — in a long time.
In strict money terms, it would be hard to beat the mid-1990s when the $500 million plant for Advanced Silicon Materials Inc. was built just southwest of Butte. The company made highly pure polysilicon for various products before it was purchased by Renewable Energy Corp. in 2005.
But that was one giant project. There are many happening now across Silver Bow County.
“This is big in terms of at least the 25 years on my watch,” said Butte-Silver Bow Planning Director Jon Sesso.
The buildings sprouting in Butte during the past 18 months include the five-story, $25 million NorthWestern Energy building Uptown; a $9 million natural resources laboratory at Montana Tech; and two of the biggest county projects in decades — a new water treatment plant and major upgrades to the sewer plant.
Each of those, in the end, will cost more than $30 million.
Buffalo Wild Wings moved into a new $1.1 million building on Harrison Avenue this year. An old eyesore on Harrison — the vacant, boarded-up Skookum Motel — was wiped away to make room for a new Pizza Ranch restaurant. A new larger home for MacKenzie River Pizza is going up that will be called MacKenzie River Pizza, Pub & Grill.
An 84-room Fairfield Inn & Suites — a Marriott franchise — is being built near the cluster of other chain hotels by the Interstate 15-90 interchange on the Flat.
Town Pump is expanding its headquarters at the base of Uptown.
“It’s sort of a sleepy little project that is going on at Platinum and Main streets and that is $4 million,” Sesso said. “It is almost doubling the size of their corporate space.”
Several warehouses have been or are being built, including ones for Frito-Lay, Lisac’s Tire and one by the owner of Harrington’s Floor & Window Coverings. A 20,000-square-foot warehouse going up in Butte’s Industrial Park will be a new home to SepticNet — a Butte company that makes modular septic treatment systems — with space for more tenants.
Sesso said SepticNet’s products could help open up residential development in southeastern parts of Butte because the septic systems don’t discharge nitrates, which cause problems in that area.
Copper Fox Estates, Butte’s first new housing subdivision in years, is planned for 83 lots on 25 acres just north of Four Mile Road and Margaret Leary Elementary School on Butte’s south side.
“It was a long sleepy suburban tract that was done in 1958 when it was originally platted,” Sesso said. “That was sort of in the heyday of Butte relative to current times. They are re-platting it now. They are really redoing the whole thing.”
On the rental front, one five-plex apartment building and at least 13 four-plex buildings — more than 55 apartments in all — are planned at various sites in Butte, including some by Montana Tech.
“I think one of the big drivers for that is Montana Tech being at capacity for their dorms,” said Mike Nasheim, the county’s building and code enforcement officer. More residential housing is planned at Tech, too.
St. James Healthcare is working on four building projects collectively valued at more than $1.6 million, including remodeling work in a lab and a physical therapy unit.
Markovich said the building business has been good in other parts of southwestern Montana lately, too. His company did three projects in Dillon last year, one in Anaconda and one in Ennis.
Things also are looking positive outside of this region, he said. A seven-story building is going up in Missoula, among other projects, and an $11 million apartment complex is being built in Bozeman.
“I see it everywhere,” he said. “The advantage of my company, personally, is those are projects we had to chase. We would go out and chase those.”
Now, most crews and equipment that were working elsewhere in Montana and beyond are in Butte, and Markovich gets to stick around here more as well.
“I have a little boy at home,” he said. “I’ve spent plenty of nights away, so it’s really nice to be close to home. Butte has been our home and the base of our business for 30 and 40 years, and we have always been pro-Butte, and it sure is nice to see the development.”
He and others can’t point to just one thing behind the upswing.
Sesso said that Butte, unlike some Montana cities, was not blasted by the housing crisis and Great Recession that began in 2007 and 2008 and lingered on. Its economy weathered well so it didn’t have to climb out of a deep hole.
Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent said promotion is a factor, also.
“We have focused more on promoting and marketing Butte’s positive aspects and really investing in our infrastructure and making our government more accountable,” he said. “All of these things add up.
The bottom line is an upswing in Butte’s economy, he said.
“They call them trends for a reason,” he said. “It wasn’t long before today that we were holding our breath.”