A recovery may be coming faster than expected for contractors working in certain construction sectors, according to the recently released Autodesk 2021 Construction Outlook.

Compared to a three-month pre-pandemic average of its data, total bid volume was up 15% in November 2020 and 36% in January, with the latter an all-time high on the BuildingConnected platform.

The report is based on aggregated, anonymized bidding data from users of Autodesk BuildingConnected. Data from that network of contractors and construction managers was analyzed by construction economist Edward Zarenski of Construction Analytics and Autodesk's BuildingConnected team. They write in the report that many project types are bouncing back faster than previously expected. BuildingConnected has been providing bidding services since its launch in 2012 and was acquired by Autodesk in 2018. The report also includes data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Dodge Data & Analytics.

Comparing the volume of projects added to BuildingConnected and the volume of bid invitations, the surge in bidding activity may be due to restarts of projects that had been delayed or rescheduled, Zarenski writes.

"While it’s not a sign that the construction industry is completely out of the woods, the fact that bidding has not only returned to pre-pandemic levels—but in some cases surpassed those pre-pandemic levels—is a bright spot and suggests the industry is getting back to work," according to the report. 
"That said, being able to predict recovery has become increasingly nuanced, especially while navigating this uncharted territory."

The report states that the rate of new projects added to BuildingConnected has remained constant during the pandemic, which led Zarenski and the Autodesk BuildingConnected team to the inference that the recent increase activity is linked to project restarts.

Total new starts in 2021 are forecast to increase 6%. While the report's data does not claim to create a snapshot of the entire U.S. construction industry, more than 1 million building owners, general contractors, construction managers and subcontractors use BuildingConnected for project bidding.

The report also predicts that new residential starts will increase 4.9% from 2020, nonresidential building starts will increase 3.6% and nonbuilding infrastructure will increase 10.1%.

Most nonresidential buildings markets and residential new starts are forecast to increase 5% in 2021. Health care (expected to increase 9.6%), office buildings (7.4%), and commercial construction (6.6%) are the nonresidential sectors projected to see the largest growth in new starts this year.

Transportation (37%) and power infrastructure (13.7%) have the strongest projected growth among the non-building infrastructure categories tracked in the report.