The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 07, 2011

Michigan a stronghold for construction employment

By The Building Tradesman

Several regions in Michigan enjoyed strong construction employment gains compared to the rest of the country between August 2010 and August 2011, the Associated General Contractors reported Sept. 26.

No less than seven Michigan regions were in the top nation’s 20 in construction industry employment growth during that 12-month period. Coming in at No. 3 was the Detroit -Dearborn-Livonia area (+3,400 jobs +18 percent). Combined with the Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills area (+3,800 jobs, +10 percent, ranking No. 19), Southeast Michigan proved to be one of the hottest spots for construction jobs in the country.

Other Michigan regions in the top 20 were Lansing-East Lansing (ranked No. 7, +15 percent); Niles- Benton Harbor (No. 16, + 11 percent); Monroe (No. 14, +12 percent); Kalamazoo- Portage (No. 19-tied, +10 percent) and the Saginaw area (No. 19-tied, +10 percent). Month to month totals over the past year have shown Michigan in a strong position for construction employment – even though many local unions still have a significant number of members on the bench.

Of course, it’s important to point out that overall, construction employment in still stuck in low gear, with employment levels only near what they were about a decade ago.

“The construction market is caught between increases in private sector demand and even larger decreases in public sector construction investments,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. He noted that private sector spending on construction has grown by 5.5 percent since July 2010 while public sector demand declined by 8.8 percent during the same time period. “Construction employment continues to be stuck in a pattern where there are just as many hot spots as there are slow spots.”

Overall, construction employment increased in 146 out of 337 U.S. metropolitan areas between August 2010 and August 2011, declined in 145, and stayed level in 46, according to the AGC’s analysis of federal employment data. Association officials noted that the local employment data remains relatively split as private sector demand increased and public sector activity declined more rapidly during the past year.

Houston- Sugar Land- Baytown, Texas, added more construction jobs (10,400 jobs, 6 percent) than any other metro area during the past year while Lake County-Kenosha County, Ill.-Wis., added the highest percentage (22 percent, 2,900 jobs).

The largest job losses during that year were in the Los Angeles- Long Beach- Glendale area (-7,000 jobs, -7 percent); followed by Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. (-5,500 jobs, -6 percent) and Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev. (-4,400, -10 percent).

In Michigan, Flint (-5 percent) was the only area to decline, while there was zero growth in Battle Creek, Jackson, Holland-Grand Haven, and Muskegon-Norton Shores.

AGC officials said the two most important steps Washington officials could take to boost construction employment are passing long-term infrastructure bills and reconsidering many of the costly regulatory obstacles that have been put in place. They noted that even as highway and transit legislation has languished, state and local officials are being forced to spend billions of limited transportation funds on butterfly bridges and bat-safe highway lighting.

“It’s like we are trying to rebuild our economy with two hands tied behind our back,” said the association’s chief executive officer Stephen E. Sandherr.