The number of permits issued by the Chicago Department of Buildings aren't what they used to be, but data collected by Chicago Sun-Times suggest conditions could normalize in the the next year or so. In 2012, the city issued $3.7 billion in permits. By comparison it issued $5.4 billion in permits through the first 11 months of 2014. That's only $1 billion short of the $6.4 billion in permits issued by the city in 2007.

Data from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) indicate that metro Chicago posted the nation's third largest gain in construction employment in November in year-over-year comparisons. All good news, inasmuch as Chicago is the engine that drives the region. As its economy improves, so do prospects for builders.

The surrounding state also is showing strength, having added 12,000 construction jobs in November, sufficient to place it among the nation's top five gainers for a third consecutive month, according to AGC data. Likewise, general employment is improving. In just a year, state unemployment dropped from 9% to 6.6%.

Alas, employment is only one measure of a state's health, and of its prospects as both an economic power and generator of even greater gains in employment, construction or otherwise. Here, the story takes a grimmer turn. State finances are a mess. The state's credit rating is the worst in the nation. The same rollback in personal and corporate income taxes that could – and should – attract business when it takes effect next month may instead serve as a deterrent, as reduced revenues will dig the state an even bigger hole.

Attempts to contend with the state's ailing pension system – perhaps the darkest hole of all – hit a snag in November when Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz ruled Illinois Senate Bill 1 – aka the Illinois pension reform bill – in violation of the state’s constitution. Now it is in the hands of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Meantime, businesses are leaving the state, or threatening to do so. The manufacturing sector that once sustained downstate Illinois already has taken a hike.

Illinois remains a place where many enterprises have no wish to conduct business. And that could undermine the recent gains the state has seen in construction.