Though McGraw-Hill Construction's latest report on Florida construction starts was mostly glum again, one number in particular offered a ray of hope for some Florida contractors. The bad news is that the overall value of new contracts for future construction fell 27% in April, and that the residential and nonresidential markets showed significant declines for the month.

However, the company--publisher of Southeast Construction--reported that the value of new nonbuilding contracts (which includes roads, bridges, sewers and other infrastructure) jumped by a whopping 86% for the month of April, compared to the same period of a year ago. That equated to nearly $812.4 million in new contracts during April, enough to make nonbuilding the most robust construction market for the month.

The nonbuilding sector should continue to surge for most of the remainder of the year, as ARRA funding (aka "the stimulus") begins to kick in. The vast majority of Florida's $1.3 billion in stimulus funding had yet to be awarded during the timeframe for McGraw-Hill Construction's latest report.

The nonresidential market placed second, with $773.6 million in new contracts during the month. Still, that was 46% below last April's more than $1.4-billion total. Residential was the least active market. Its $561.3-million total for April was 47% behind that of a year ago, when it experienced nearly $1.1 billion in new contracts. Overall, Florida contracts totaled about $2.1 billion for the month.

With its strong April, nonbuilding surged to the top spot for the state's year-to-date figures as well. So far, nonbuilding is 20% ahead of 2008's pace, with an estimated $3 billion in new contracts so far. Nonresidential is right behind, with about $2.9 billion in new contracts. However, that category is 42% behind '08. Residential is the smallest market on a year-to-date basis as well. Its $2.2-billion is 53% behind last year's pace.

For the year-to-date, overall Florida contract activity is estimated at $8.1 billion so far, or 34% behind last year's pace of $12.3 billion for the first four months of the year.