Demolition companies struggling with economy

The demolition machines chewed into the parking deck behind the Garland H. Jones Building in downtown Raleigh, N.C., gnawing on concrete clusters mixed with steel beams and reinforcement bars.

The jaws then dropped each bite into piles so the materials could be sorted and recycled, spared from the landfill.

The remains of the 47-year-old office building, an adjacent parking deck and another building next door would have been a gold mine last year, when the economy was in a better mood.

But the job could now be a money loser for the company that won the demolition bid – a scenario that shows how an economic free fall is hammering demolition companies, making even winners feel like losers.

As lending has tightened, construction jobs have been delayed or canceled, killing much of the need for demolition work in the first place. Those who are lucky enough to have won such bids are watching profits vanish as global economic malaise saps demand for steel and other commodities pulled from old buildings.

"It's been almost a total collapse of the scrap metal market," said David H. Griffin Jr., a vice president at D.H. Griffin, whose wrecking division is conducting the demolition for Wake. "We've got several projects where our margins are very, very tight. Especially projects that we entered into six to eight months ago."

In July, prices for scrap steel were at an all-time high of $530 per gross ton, according to data collected by Purchasing Magazine. A month later, Wake asked for demolition bids to make way for the new $215 million Wake County Justice Center in 2013.

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