For better and for worse, the Midwest is emerging as a tale of two regions: the one that is regaining momentum on the strength of a resurgent manufacturing sector and the other that is idling on the tracks of a derailed economy.

Photo Courtesy of Turner Construction Co.
Looking Up: As a result of a resurgent industrial sector, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio are beginning to show signs of recovery.

The disparity is no less apparent in construction employment trends. While Indiana, a beneficiary of the Detroit auto industry's comeback, continues to add more construction-related jobs than any state in the nation, Illinois continues to lose nearly just as many, according to data compiled by Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America.

At the epicenter is Chicago, which in June shed 5,000 jobs compared with the year-ago period, the worst such loss of any metropolitan market in the nation. "Chicago participated in the housing boom with the fervor of a coastal city," says Anirban Basu, chief economist with Washington, D.C.,-based Associated Builders and Contractors. "Speculation and optimism were unbridled."

Today, "Chicago remains a beleaguered city," says Basu. "Lenders don't see much potential for growth."

The prospects for Indiana, Michigan and Ohio are brighter, the common denominator being the sleeker, more fuel-efficient autos rolling off Detroit production lines, a phenomenon that is triggering demand for auto parts in the Hoosier and Buckeye states. It also is triggering upgrades of production plants and roadways.

Those roads no longer extend to Missouri, where deindustrialization has taken a steep toll, says Basu. Meanwhile, a fractured political climate is hampering a full recovery in Wisconsin.

To view ENR Midwest's ranking of the region's Top Specialty Contractors, click here.