The majority Midwest of builders closed out the first quarter with better employment news than a year earlier, though key states, including Illinois and Indiana, continued to show tepid improvement, according to year-over-year data compiled by Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

Ohio (+7,800 jobs, 4.3%) led the region in March employment gains, followed by Michigan (+5,400 jobs, 4.1%),  Missouri (3,800 job, 3.6%), Wisconsin (3,500 jobs, 3.6%) and Illinois (1,600, 0.8%). Indiana (-1,600, -1.3%) posted declines in year-over-year comparisons.

In all, March construction employment increased in 38 states in year-over-year comparisons and in half of states in month-to-month comparisons, AGC data indicate. “The widespread gains in employment from a year ago are encouraging, given the tough winter many states endured right through March,” says AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson. “The never-ending winter of 2014 may account for the dip in the number of states in the latest month, but it is also possible that single-family home builders are not adding workers as some forecasters expected.”

Sluggish conditions in Illinois mirrors larger problems in the state. Although state unemployment dipped to 8.4% in March, its lowest level since January 2009, Illinois still carries the third-worst rate in the nation, according to Illinois Department of Employment Security.  Simonson says ongoing debt problems in Illinois are “worrisome” and potentially detrimental to state public works programs, which typically rely on debt financing.

Builders in Ohio currently are benefiting from a fracking boom in eastern portions of the state, and builders in Michigan from strong auto sales, Simonson says. Detroit's resurgent auto sector should help stimulate construction of auto-parts plants in Indiana and elsewhere, he adds.