Although average construction backlogs in the Midwest remained largely unchanged for the fourth quarter of 2011, backlogs slid 3.2% nationwide, from 8.1 months to 7.8 months, for the same period, according to Washington, D.C.-based Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

Backlogs in middle states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri, rose from 6.22 months to 6.53 months between the third and fourth quarters, putting the region roughly on par with Western states, but well behind the Northeastern and Southern regions, whose backlogs for the fourth quarter averaged 7.99 months and 8.92 months, respectively.

“The disparity between regional construction is on the rise,” says ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu.“The South appears to be the region most positively impacted by rebounding non-residential construction, largely due to its its central importance to the nation's energy industry.”

A softening in the U.S. economy early last year contributed to declining backlogs for the entire nation, as did the conclusion of several projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, says Basu, who notes the numbers indicate “a degree of stalling in the recovery of the nation's non-residential construction industry. But the good news is that given the recent acceleration of the in economic and employment growth, [we're] positioned to rebound more forcefully during the quarters ahead.”

Earlier in February, the Commerce Department indicated that construction outlays rose 1.5% in December, the biggest such gain since August. Private construction spending rose 2.1%, the sector's strongest showing since May.

The total value of construction in 2011 was $787.4 billion, 2% below the $803.6 billion spent in 2010.