Construction industry members in the Midwest and elsewhere can be forgiven for having grown bleary-eyed following the zig-zagging of leading economic indicators month over month, year over year.
March brought more mixed results to the Midwest, with the American Institute of Architects Architectural Billings Index indicating that demand for architectural services rose, albeit modestly, for the fifth consecutive month, with the Midwest leading all regions in the Index's New Project Inquiry Index.
The Billings Index, which addresses non-residential construction, is regarded as a bellwether of sorts for future spending on hard construction nine to 12 months in the future. AIA attributes growth in March to increasing numbers of commercial developments.
“We are starting to hear more about improving conditions in the marketplace, with a greater sense of optimism that there will be greater demand for design services,” says AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, who nonetheless notes that “progress is likely to be measured in inches rather than miles for the next few months.”
So, there's a glimpse of the future for you, though it's worth noting that while demand for architectural services grew in March, it was not as strong as in February.
A glimpse at the recent past isn't as pretty, with the Associated General Contractors of America reporting that construction employment stalled in all but 12 states in March. Ohio was the biggest loser, having shed 7,000 construction-related jobs from a month earlier, with Illinois and Wisconsin trailing right behind it, shedding 5,000 and 4,500 jobs, respectively.
On a brighter note, Missouri added 2,400 jobs and Indiana 500, but not a stellar performance for the region overall.
AGC Stephen E. Sandherr laid the problem at the feet of federal lawmakers, who he says must enact long-term infrastructure measures and tax measures that provide business owners with the confidence they need to hire. “Many construction firms are hesitant to hire when they have no idea how much work will be available later this year or how much they will owe in taxes next April.”
To be continued, of course. In the meantime, keep following the zig-zags, if you can stand to.