Construction employment inched upward in several major Midwest markets in December, including Indianapolis (+7%), Milwaukee (+7%) St. Louis (+5%), Cleveland (+3%) and Cincinnati (+2%), according to year-over-year comparisons by the Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America.

By comparison, Detroit and Chicago recorded losses of -6% and -3%, respectively.

In all, construction employment increased in 139 out of 337 metropolitan areas between December 2011 and December 2012, declined in 133, and remained unchanged in 65, an AGC analysis of federal employment data shows.

Chicago, hit hard by the nation's housing crisis, has only recently begun to see a rebound in some sectors. Data released last week by the Mid-America Real Estate Corp indicate shopping center development in the metro area rose from 1.02 million square-feet in 2011 to 1.14 million square feet in 2012, with roughly 900,000 additional square feet expected this year. The increase was the first in four years.

Last week, city planners approved plans for a $1-billion riverfront project that would include as many as 1,410 residential units and 450 hotel rooms. The project, known as Wolf Point, calls for three high rises, with the shortest, a 50-story apartment building, to rise first.

The city's office market also is demonstrating improvement. Earlier this month, Canadian developer Ivanhoe Cambridge and co-investor and developer Hines broke ground on a 45-story office tower in Chicago's West Loop, the largest commercial project to rise in the city in five years.

Although Detroit is contemplating several private and public projects, including plans for 3.3 miles of light rail along Woodward Avenue, a corridor extending through the heart of downtown, the city continues to contend with a declining population and rising unemployment.