Nope. The mecca for construction in the Midwest these days is none other than Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which along with neighboring Iowa City is priming for a $2-billion building boom, much of it to rebuild from flooding that occurred there in the summer of 2008.
As Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz recently told reporters, “We have more projects going on than just about anywhere in the nation.”
Ken Simonson, chief economist with the Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America, agrees.“That's pretty exceptional to have that kind of investment going on,” he told the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
So exceptional that regional officials and construction industry members fret that upcoming projects could overwhelm the state's construction workforce, given the number of skilled workers who folded up their tents and moved to other fields once their livelihoods were claimed by years of recession.
For some Iowa contractors, it's a case of careful what you wish for, now that activity also has begun to bubble up elsewhere in the state, putting a potential strain on the industry's workforce as plans for a $1.3-billion fertilizer plant in Lee County and a $500-million industrial park in Fort Dodge, to name just two projects, begin to ramp up.
To date, Iowa has regained 6,000 of the 16,000 construction jobs it lost since 2,006. Nationwide, industry employment levels largely have remained unchanged in the past two years, though the industry has shed 600,000 workers.
“That tells me people are finding jobs, but not in construction.” Simonson said. “They're getting work as truck drivers, in manufacturing, they're going back to school. When the industry starts looking for workers, it just may not find them.”