The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 12, 2011

It’s a start: jobs picture brighter for state construction

By The Building Tradesman

Could Michigan – our battered and bruised Michigan – actually be one of the leaders in construction employment growth in the U.S.?

Apparently that’s what’s going on, and for the skeptics and non-believers, the employment numbers have been moving in that direction for the past year or so. To emphasize the good news, the Associated General Contractors of Michigan hosted a press conference on Aug. 2 at the Children’s Hospital Specialty Center construction site in Detroit – coincidentally the same day we visited.

“It has been too long since we’ve had news like this to report in Detroit,” said Todd Doenitz, chairman of the AGC of Michigan. “From a construction point of view, it looks like the area’s long slump has finally come to an end.”

The AGC said the Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn area reached an 11-year high in employment growth as 1,800 new construction jobs were added between June 2010 and June 2011. The increase translates into a 10 percent increase in construction employment over the past year, ranking the area’s growth No. 22 in the nation.

The Detroit area got the press conference, but as we’ve pointed out, a number of geographic areas in our state have been among the leaders in construction employment growth during the course of this year. The Saginaw/Bay City area has done particularly well. And the Battle Creek area actually led the nation in construction job growth percentage – up 27 percent from February 2010 to February 2011, although only 300 actual jobs made the positive swing possible.

From June 2010 to June 2011, the AGC reports that no less than seven areas of Michigan were in the top 30 in the U.S. in construction employment growth.

Kalamazoo-Portage was the highest ranked, tied at No. 8, with employment rising 13 percent from June 2010 to June 2011. An increase in employment for 600 workers made that rise possible.

Other Michigan areas in the Top 30 include Niles-Benton Harbor (+12 percent, No. 17); Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills (+11 percent, No. 21); Lansing- East Lansing (+10 percent, No. 22); Saginaw (+10 percent, No. 22) and Bay City (+9 percent, No. 28).

It’s important to realize, however, that employment percentage gains in smaller regions are often based on just a few hundred workers, and can easily swing based on the start or completion of a single project.

Other areas in Michigan haven’t been so busy in the past year. The Grand Rapids-Wyoming area saw a 1 percent increase in employment. Flint dropped 3 percent.  (No areas of the U.P. appeared on the list).

Nationwide, construction is still in the doldrums. Less than half of all the metropolitan areas in the nation – 149 of 337 – actually added construction jobs during that one-year period. The other areas stayed the same or lost jobs. Most increases, the AGC said, have been driven by increases in private sector construction.

“Our employment situation has been down too long to not appreciate some good news,” said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin. “And we know that we’ve had a bit of a comeback of sorts in a lot of areas of the state. But at the same time, a lot of our local unions are still sitting at 20 percent unemployment or more, and we’re going to need years of solid work before a lot of our people are back on good financial footing. But this is a start.”

Clark Construction Executive Vice President Ken Lawless told Michigan Constructor Magazine “now we’re starting to see unemployment drop slightly and and engineering firms picking up. I think it means the industry has bottomed out and is starting to see improvement.”