Jobless Rate Falls, But Industry Adds Just 1,000 Jobs in August

Construction's unemployment rate continued to head downward in August, dipping to 11.3% from July's 12.3%, but the industry posted a gain of only 1,000 jobs last month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest monthly employment status report, released on Sept. 7, also showed that construction's jobless rate last month was better than the 13.5% level for August 2011. But industry officials said one factor behind the construction unemployment rate's decline is that many workers have left the construction industry. "While we all breathe a sigh of relief any time the sector adds jobs, these numbers are hardly cause for celebration," says Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America.

Egypt's Orascom Aims To Buy Iowa's Weitz and Co-Build Plant

Des Moines-based contractor The Weitz Co. said on Sept. 7 that it has agreed to an acquisition by Egypt's Orascom Construction Industries (OCI). Terms of the transaction were not released, but it could close in weeks, says a source close to the deal. The purchase, brokered by Denver-based FMI, expands OCI's U.S. footprint and better links the firms in their planned construction of what will be one of Iowa's largest projects: a $1.4-billion natural-gas-fired fertilizer plant set for completion in 2015. The state had been vying with Illinois for the project, say published reports. Weitz says its Hawaii-based Watts Constructors unit, which works in federal markets, would be combined with OCI's McLean, Va.-based business unit. Contrack International performs federal work in the Middle East and Central Asia. Weitz, which ranks at No. 57 on ENR's list of the Top 400 Contractors, plans to retain CEO Leonard Martling and other top managers. Orascom had $1.3 billion in 2011 global revenue.

Dodge Momentum Index Down in August

The Dodge Momentum Index declined 1.4% in August compared to July, according to McGraw-Hill Construction. Despite the monthly pullback, the index remains 21.4% ahead of its August 2011 level. "The recent softening in the U.S. economy may be causing some deceleration in plans for future development," says Kim Kennedy, a MHC analyst. This slowdown is particularly apparent in the index's commercial component, which dropped 3.5% in August. In contrast, the institutional-building segment of the Dodge index inched upward 1.0% during the month, says Kennedy. Both components are well ahead of their year-earlier levels. The Dodge Momentum Index measures early planning activity, which has been shown to accurately predict non-residential building construction spending activity by a full year.

Treatment-Plant Repair Job Set

Design work should be under way by October to repair the Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant in Binghamton, N.Y. A treatment cell wall collapsed last year during Hurricane Irene, and later flooding damaged it further. The $50-million repair project is expected to take five years, two for design and three for construction, says Philip T. Krey, Binghamton city engineer. Savin Engineers, Pleasantville, N.Y., has contracts for almost $5 million for project engineering work. A separate construction contract will be let in late 2013, Krey says. The city of Binghamton also is preparing for a separate $12-million flood-mitigation project for the plant.

Ex-Im Bank Gives $2B to U.A.E. To 'Buy American' on New Plant

The U.S. Export-Import Bank has approved $2 billion in financing to support purchase of U.S.-sourced components and services for a new 5,600-MW nuclear complex in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The largest amount will finance purchases from reactor vendor Westinghouse for coolant pumps, controls, engineering services and training. Additional financing will go to program manager CH2M Hill and project engineer Sargent & Lundy. The main contractor on the plant, now under way, is Korea Electric Power Co. Ex-Im says the line of credit, which will support 5,000 jobs in 17 U.S states, is the bank's first greenfield nuclear project financing since the 1990s and its largest transaction for a U.A.E. project.