If gains among the Midwest’s largest contractors weren’t as sweeping as those for the region’s major design firms in 2014, key indicators nevertheless suggest regional builders are emerging from the deep economic hole that engulfed them for years.
In the first quarter, construction backlogs for the Midwest jumped from 6.2 months to 7 months, an all-time high, according to Washington, D.C.-based Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). In year-over-year comparisons, data from Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) indicate that once-battered Michigan ranks as the nation’s third-largest generator of construction employment in both April and May.
Credit a resurgent auto industry for not only buoying Michigan, but spreading the wealth to neighboring states, where auto parts are manufactured. “The U.S. currently is exporting 1 million automobiles a year,” says Anirban Basu, ABC chief economist.
Growth in other segments of transportation is likewise generating demand for locomotive cars, jet aircraft parts and barges in the region, says Ken Simonson, AGC chief economist.
The funding needed to support road and bridgework is waning, however, both in the Midwest and elsewhere. “You can’t point to a place where voters warm to the idea of a fuel tax,” Simonson says. Nowhere are conditions more dire than in Missouri, where voters have vetoed both retail and gas taxes to fund road work, bringing new construction to a halt.
Conditions in other sectors remain sufficiently robust for regional construction to grow by 6% to 10% this year, on par with the overall nation, says Basu. “As a whole, the year will go down as a solid one for the Midwest,” he says.
To see a list of the region's largest contractors, click here.