The Unified Group has selected Baton Rouge, La.-based Legend’s Mechanical as its newest member.

Legend’s will join more than 55 commercial HVAC contractors and will serve as the association’s southern Louisiana member.

The Unified Group, formed in 1998, is a group of independent contractors that work together to make their HVAC companies stronger, according to the association. The group assesses prospective members based on the number of years in business, commitment to training, awards received, and positive customer and vendor references.

The group says it selects only one HVAC commercial contractor per geographic area in order to ensure an atmosphere where members can share confidential business information.

Stability

A majority of firms expect the dollar volume of projects they compete for to either grow or remain stable in every market segment. In particular, roughly three-fourths of contractors expect the utility, hospital and higher education markets to expand or remain stable this year.

In contrast, contractors working on a number of market segments typically funded by the public sector are more pessimistic. Forty-four percent of contractors expect the market for new public buildings to shrink, 41 percent expect the market for K-12 school construction to shrink, and 40 percent expect the highway market to contract.

In addition, many contractors report they continue to be impacted by tight credit conditions. Nearly half of responding firms report that tighter lending conditions have forced their customers to delay or cancel construction projects. Perhaps related to the tough credit environment, 60 percent of firms expect demand for green construction projects to either stagnate or decline in 2012.

“There are definitely some conflicting trends when it comes to contractors’ expectations for 2012,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “The construction industry will improve this year but we are going to have to wait until at least 2013 before contractors experience the kind of recovery this industry needs.”

Caution

Simonson added that contractors appear cautious with their plans for acquiring new construction equipment. Many more firms report plans to lease, instead of purchase, new equipment. Only 40 percent of firms report they plan to buy new equipment this year, while 66 percent plan to lease.

Contractors also report being caught between stagnant bid levels and rising materials prices. Eighty-six percent of firms report they expect their materials prices to increase in 2012, even as 80 percent say they expect bid levels to stagnate or decline this year.

A growing number of firms appear to be focused on increasing efficiency and reducing costs by taking advantage of building information modeling services, association officials noted. Thirty-one percent of firms report they currently use the technology, up from just 8 percent from last year. And 47 percent report they expect the use of building information modeling to increase in 2012.

“As a result of the tight market conditions, firms are trying to find the best way to leverage their investments in new information technology,” said Roger Kirk, Computer Guidance’s president and CEO. “Contractors are looking for software and technology that increases the efficiency of existing staff and allows firms to do more with fewer people.”