Drive five blocks in any direction, it would seem, and there are a variety of superstores under construction or newly completed.

Without question, 1994 was one the best years ever in the retail building industry in Utah, the valley dotted with the likes of national retailers Eagle Hardware, The Home Depot and new Fred Meyers Food and Drug Superstores.While Utahns recognize the trend anecdotally, hard numbers confirm that 1994 was an exceptional year in the non-residential building industry. A University of Utah Bureau of Economic and Business Research report indicates Utah counties issued permits for $518 million in nonresidential building, a 55 percent increase over 1993.

In retail construction alone, construction values jumped from about $36 million in 1993 to $98 million in 1994, a 172 percent increase, according to the university construction report.

As Camco Construction Inc. winds down its best year ever, President and Chief Executive Officer Robert F. Campbell is circumspect as he plans for 1995. "I think we've seen the retail boom," Campbell said. "We're going to see more retail built next year but not to the extent of this year."

Camco took on something of a circuslike atmosphere this summer as Campbell and Camco managers oversaw the construction of more than 500,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, most of the projects undertaken concurrently.

To put the square footage in perspective, consider that an average home is about 2,500 square feet in size. The Home Depot location Camco built at 2100 S. 300 West was 100,000 square feet in size. "That's a lot of homes you could put in that box," Campbell said.

Managing inspection schedules and permitting processes has not been nearly as difficult as maintaining a stable labor force during the construction boom. With the crush of construction going on in Utah, workers had their choice of jobs. Some crafts, such as carpenters and electricians, could demand premium wages for their crafts.

While some contractors have had to sweeten their wage and benefit packages to attract workers, trades unions have encouraged workers to be sensible in their demands.

"Construction is a boom and bust business. This could all be over with next year. Our position has been not to become real greedy," said Steve Richins, secretary/treasurer of the Utah Building and Con struction Trades Council.

But he admits some crafts have fared better than others, as contractors are pressured by owners to complete projects as close to cost and schedule as possible. "There may be some premiums offered to people. Then again, contractors have work they want to get done too," Richins said.

The nonresidential construction season has been one of constant juggling, Campbell said, shuttling among work sites and constant telephone calls to project superintendents and meeting with anxious owners.

"Thayne Robson (U. economist) was right on when he said `You can't build on budget or on time in Utah right now,' " Campbell said. "It's not fun disappointing good clients who expect things the way they were in the good old days. It's not like the good old days. It's now."

Without question, Camco has had a full plate this year. The company's projects have included Merit Medical Systems Inc.'s 180,000-square-foot office/medical products manufacturing facility, The Marriott Courtyard Hotel, an addition to Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church and a handful of grocery and home improvement superstores, to name a few.

The retail explosion has been driven by two factors, Campbell said. "I believe it's driven by the population growth, people have more disposable income, and I think companies are driving for market share. You name the company, they want to get in and get established," Campbell said.

Camco was founded in 1976 and had endured a number of building booms and busts. After nearly 20 years in business, Campbell has observed that the retail building boom follows the housing construction explosion, which according to the U.'s Bureau of Economic and Business Research is tapering off.

"I believe the next boom will be light industrial, manufacturing and warehouse space," Campbell said.

The U.'s construction report indicates industrial building climbed in dollar value by 13.9 percent between 1993 and 1994, but a fair number of projects announced recently have yet to be constructed, such as Swire Pacific's new Coca-Cola bottling plant in Draper.

Doubtless, Camco will be in the thick of things, competing for a share of the anticipated work. "There's some good things on the horizon that would push us even higher. But those aren't contracts. Yet," he said, smiling. The retail explosion has been