Laguna Hills, CA –
Orange County is the nation’s construction hot spot, at least by job-growth figures.
Analysis of federal jobs data by the Associated General Contractors of America shows Orange County construction bosses added 12,500 jobs in the 12 months ended in February, a 15 percent jump. That topped the national ranking for new jobs followed by New York City (up 11,900 jobs, or 9 percent); Westchester, N.Y. (up 7,800 jobs, or 23 percent); and Orlando (up 7,500 jobs, 13 percent).
While real estate was slow to recover from a painful recession, the extended economic rebound has filled various types of real estate niches, locally and nationwide, from housing to lodging to office space to factories and warehouses. The demand created a push to build new supply in many parts of the nation and make construction workers hot properties.
Construction is hugely important to Orange County, where the building industry’s $5.8 billion annual payroll ranks third among all U.S. counties. The local construction hiring spree pushed local building trades employment to 97,700 workers in February. That’s up 49 percent from the 2010 low to the highest level since December 2007.
But it’s not a trend only in Orange County: Job counts in construction grew in the past year in 234 of 358 metro areas tracked by the contractor association. Los Angeles added 6,100 jobs, or 5 percent. Inland Empire employment grew by 6,900 workers, or 9 percent.
“Many parts of the country continue to see robust construction job growth as demand for projects rises,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Construction employment in many energy-producing areas, however, appears to be suffering as lower prices for products like coal, oil and natural gas cut into demand for construction services.”
Cheap oil might help your household budget, but it has also axed the need to develop more energy-exploration projects. Just look where construction lost the most jobs in the past year: Texas!
Fort Worth was the worst market for construction workers – down 4,100 jobs, or 6 percent, in the 12 months ended in February. Midland was down 3,200 jobs, or 12 percent, for the third-biggest dip; followed by Odessa, down 3,000 building jobs, or 15 percent.
At the state level, California was the largest construction-job creator in a building-trades expansion that saw 43 states and the District of Columbia boost construction employment in the 12 months ended in February.
California added 53,800 jobs, or 7.6 percent, in the year; Florida added 25,800 jobs, or 6.2 percent; New York added 19,100 jobs, or 5.5 percent; and Massachusetts added 14,600 jobs, or 11 percent. Conversely, energy-heavy North Dakota lost the most construction jobs in a year: 5,300 positions or 14.5 percent.
Nationwide, energy’s woes couldn’t dull a broad-based building boom. Construction firms added 253,000 workers in the 12 months ended in February – a 4 percent jump – to 6.63 million workers, the highest since December 2008. February’s unemployment rate for construction workers was 8.6 percent, a 10-year low for the month.
The heavy hiring comes with another benefit for construction workers: raises!
Average hourly earnings in construction rose by 2.4 percent in the 12 months ended in February versus 1.3 percent in the previous year, the contractor association reported. Another pay metric, average weekly wages, showed Orange County construction pay was up at a 4.6 percent annual rate in 2015’s third quarter versus raises at a 2.1 percent annual pace for all local industries.
Construction’s outlook seems rosy as building-industry spending nationwide rises at a healthy pace, according to economist Patrick Newport at IHS Global Insight.
In a recent report, he noted that a key building-expenditure metric – core construction (building of homes, apartments, state and local government projects, and private nonresidential construction) – probably grew at a swift 9 percent annualized rate in the first quarter.
“The outlook for residential construction this year is for further solid gains driven by a pickup in household formation by young adults,” Newport wrote. “Private nonresidential construction has been mixed: manufacturing, communications, and religious are slipping; office, and education and lodging are climbing; and the remaining categories are moving sideways.”
Can this momentum get the building business back to pre-recession heights? Note that Orange County, for example, is still 12,700 jobs short of its 2006 pinnacle in construction jobs.
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