In May, the dollar value of total construction starts rose 3%, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s latest report on construction activity.

Positive Signs Start To Pop Up in Market Statistics
Soruce: McGraw-Hill Construction Analytics. ConstructionContract Value Cumulative Year-to-Date Through May 2010

Three percent may not be a remarkable number, but it is notable that most of the gain came in the previously moribund non-residential building market. The sector rose 19% from the previous month but is now down 16% from the five-month cumulative total of last year.

Those percentages are an improvement over the 18% year-to-year decline recorded during the previous month. “The good news with May statistics is that non-residential building rebounded after a very depressed April,” says MHC chief economist Robert Murray. “The May pace for non-residential buildings can still be characterized as weak by recent standards,” says Murray. He takes heart in seeing several large starts, including $229 million for a medical research building in Maryland, a $122-million science building in Massachusetts and a $100-million performing-arts center in Chicago.