The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 09, 2014

Michigan starts '14 in decent shape

By The Building Tradesman

After months of middling around the middle and bottom tiers of state rankings of construction employment, things took a noticeable turn for the better in March in Michigan.

The Associated General Contractors reported on April 18 that Michigan’s 4.1 percent increase in construction employment from March 2013 to March 2014 placed us at No. 15 among the states. Michigan was one of 38 states that enjoyed positive construction employment gains during that time.

Michigan’s employed construction workforce rose to 136,800 during that year ending March 2014, an increase of 5,400 jobs. Although, short-term, Michigan lost 200 construction jobs between February and March 2014.

“The widespread gains in employment from a year ago are encouraging, given the tough winter many states endured right through March,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “The never-ending winter of 2014 may account for the dip in the number of states that added construction jobs in the latest month, but it is also possible that single-family homebuilders are not adding workers as some forecasters expected.”

Simonson said he expects private nonresidential construction to continue adding workers, especially in states with large oil and gas activity, such as North Dakota, Louisiana, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma. He cited apartment construction as another growth area but said single-family homebuilding may stall at a relatively low level.

The employment news is especially good in Michigan’s Monroe County, which the AGC said was the No. 1 city/metropolitan area in the nation (among 339) for construction job gains in March 2014 vs. March 2013. Monroe’s construction employment jumped to 3,000 Hardhats in March 2014, an increase of 43 percent over 2,100 a year earlier.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia shed construction jobs between March 2013 and March 2014, while employment was constant in Alaska. The largest number of losses (by percentage) occurred in Washington D.C., New Jersey and West Virginia.

“Much of the country experienced relatively robust growth in construction employment during the past year,” said Simonson. “But the fact is construction employment remains below prior peak levels in most areas shows just how hard hit the industry was during the downturn and how vulnerable it is to disruptions, such as a potential lapse in federal highway funding.”

Association officials said thousands of construction jobs could be at risk if Congress and the Obama Administration allow billions in highway funding to come to a halt this summer when the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to reach a zero balance. The prospects are so daunting that thousands of highway workers have already contacted their members of Congress asking for help as part of a “Hardhats for Highways” campaign organized by a coalition of construction and labor groups.

“It would be an economic travesty to put thousands out of work and undermine the construction industry’s recovery because Washington officials don’t fix a problem they’ve known about for months,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC’s chief executive officer. “This isn’t the kind of summer break hard-working crafts men and women expect or deserve.”