The value of the top project starts across the Midwest region fell again in 2021 after a run of record-breaking years ended in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Midwest construction persevered, and the 66 projects on ENR Midwest’s Top Starts ranking represent $14.08 billion in work that began in 2021. Each project has been valued at or above $100 million. That’s down from $14.8 billion represented by 87 projects that started in 2020, all of which were valued at or above $50 million. One of the formerly strongest Midwest sectors, office and mixed-use projects, was virtually absent from the list as developers and real estate professionals continued to try to figure out what the post-COVID-19 workplace looks like. 

What was a surprise was that another formerly hot market, data centers, joined office and mixed use on the sidelines in 2021. Only two data centers were included on the ranking, placing within the top 10 starts, from ever-expanding owners Facebook/Meta and Microsoft Corp. This could be a sign that the appetite for bandwidth and data storage has been temporarily sated.

Project types that did grow in 2021 reflect other cultural trends affected by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Cultural/worship and sports/entertainment venues seemed to come roaring back in 2021. Cultural institutions and sports owners took advantage of down time and canceled or shortened seasons to invest in their facilities to the tune of $999 million across the region. 

New health care projects broke ground to the tune of $902 million. Outpatient care projects still outpaced inpatient projects even after owners scrambled for more beds at the height of the pandemic.

Speculative residential and hotel development, K-12 and higher education school building improvements and other non-office markets were represented on the list. A standout category was the $2.66 billion spent on highways and bridges in 2021. Infrastructure, overall, saw ample investment, with the water sector netting $1.58 billion in new projects. As the new infrastructure law funnels billions of tax dollars into states and municipalities, that investment will likely continue to grow across the 11-state region.

The shift from fossil-fuel generated power systems continued with nine wind and solar power generation projects making the Midwest’s 2021 Top Starts list. Transmission investment was represented as well with the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line in Wisconsin starting last year.