The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 22, 2011

Small glimmers of hope in construction employment

By The Building Tradesman

As the nation emerges from the Great Recession, Michigan has been one of the leaders among the states in the modest upswing in construction employment over the past year.

Now, new numbers are showing where those jobs are going. The news is particularly good in Battle Creek, which actually led the nation in construction job growth percentage – up 27 percent from February 2010 to February 2011, the Associated General Contractors reported April 5.

Not that Battle Creek’s actual employment numbers are all that gaudy: actual construction jobs rose from 1,100 to 1,400 during those 12 months, but those numbers are similar to other cities in the top 20, which is a list that includes a number of smaller communities.

The AGC said construction employment increased in 141 out of 337 metropolitan areas between February 2010 and February 2011. They said that the “relatively positive” figures were likely affected by significantly improved winter weather in February, combined with the benefits of ongoing stimulus and other temporary federal construction programs.

“With nearly half of all U.S. metro areas finally adding construction jobs, these numbers are welcome news,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But warm winter weather probably played a larger role in driving these numbers up than did any change in construction demand.”

The AGC noted that construction spending hit an 11-year low in February as stimulus projects wind down and state, local and private demand for construction continue to shrink. They cautioned that without measures to boost private sector demand, repair aging infrastructure and cut red tape, it would be hard to see how the industry would continue to add jobs.

There was more good news for other cities in Michigan. Bay City came in at No. 17 on the list, with construction employment rising from 800 to 900 jobs, rising 13 percent. The “Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills division” was ranked No. 27, as jobs rose 12 percent during that one-year period, from 27,200 jobs to 30,500 jobs. Lansing-East Lansing (No. 68) was up 7 percent, from 4,500 jobs to 4,800 jobs.

But the news wasn’t so good for the “Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn division,” which ranked No. 194 and lost 1 percent or 200 jobs, down to 14,600 jobs. And the Grand Rapids area was ranked No. 291: construction jobs declined by 7 percent from 11,600 to 10,800 jobs.