For Midwest builders, a silver lining peaked out from some very dark clouds in March. Data from McGraw-Hill Construction indicate that non-residential construction contracts for metropolitan Chicago, along with portions of Wisconsin and Indiana, collectively jumped 26%, from $273 million to $345 million, in year-over-year comparisons.

However, year-to-date comparisons indicate those markets aren't keeping pace with their previous year's performance. Through March, non-residential contracts trailed contracts through March 2012 by 12 percent.

The news is grimmer for Illinois, which in March saw an 8% increase in year-over-year comparisons, but showed a deep slide in year-to-date comparisons, from $1 billion in 2012 to $762 million in 2013. That's nearly a 30% drop.

Economists say that everything from poor finances and high taxes to high unemployment and an iffy political climate continue to dog the state. Summer months will be critical. We'll be watching and reporting...