After the recession, Ohio is gaining construction jobs; projects in the Columbus area are leading the growth|
After the recession, Ohio is gaining construction jobs; projects in the Columbus area are leading the growth
By Steve Wartenberg
Ross Hawkins, left, and Al Humphries, both of Messer Construction, hang the Mount Carmel and city of Westerville flags from the top of a 200-foot crane that is at the heart of the $120 million expansion project at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s hospital. NEAL C. LAURON | DISPATCH
Boosted by expansion at local hospitals and colleges, the number of construction jobs in Ohio slowly has begun to rise.
The state’s construction industry employed 177,300 workers in January, an increase of 4,500 — or 2.6 percent — from January 2011, according to a new analysis of Labor Department data by the Associated General Contractors of America.
Almost half these gains came from the Columbus metropolitan area. The number of local construction jobs in January stood at 27,300, a jump of 2,200 — or 9 percent — from the previous year’s total.
“Ohio State (University) is an economic engine for the city and has roughly $2 billion worth of construction projects right now — and that’s great news,” said Kyle Rooney, the vice president and general manager of the local office of Turner Construction.
“There does seem to be an unusual number of large projects all going on at the same time,” he added.
Some of these larger local projects that have kept construction companies and skilled laborers busy are the $1.1 billion expansion of the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, the $840 million expansion of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the new $140 million Hilton Columbus Downtown and the $120 million expansion at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s hospital in Westerville.
“I would certainly say our projects have picked up,” said Rob Verst, vice president and region leader of the Columbus office of Messer Construction, the lead construction company on the Mount Carmel project.
Messer also is working on dormitory projects at Ohio Dominican University and Kenyon College.
“I don’t have the answer for why it’s up,” Verst said. “But I think it is customer confidence in the economy and the confidence to invest in the future with infrastructure.”
The mild winter weather helped keep projects going and boosted jobs in recent months, but the numbers already were starting to grow after a rough 2010, said Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors of America, which is based in Washington, D.C.
“Nationally, I think we have passed the low point for construction employment and spending,” he said. “The recovery began about two years later for construction than it did for the overall economy, but it is starting to pick up in many regions.”
Unemployment in the construction industry was 17.1 percent in January, more than double the national unemployment rate, but down from 21.8 percent in January 2011, according to Labor Department data.
Simonson said construction employment in Ohio is improving partly as a result of oil-and-gas activities in the Utica shale in eastern Ohio and also because manufacturers and other private companies are expanding and investing again.
While the new numbers are promising, the construction industry still has a long road to a full recovery.
There were about 238,000 jobs statewide, and 36,600 in the Columbus area, in January 2006, according to the contractors’ group.
When the recession hit, the number of building projects plummeted.
Statewide, construction-industry jobs hit bottom in June 2010, when the total was 166,400; in Columbus, the low point came in February 2010, with 23,800.
Turner is the lead contractor for the Wexner Medical Center, the Nationwide Children’s project and the Hilton Columbus Downtown. Other sectors, Rooney said, have not seen as much growth.
“The commercial-development market has not come back as quickly as other areas, and there’s still a lot of absorption left in the office-building sector,” he said.
“And there’s some uneasiness in the retail sector, and they’re not ready to expand yet.”
Information from the Dayton Daily News was included in this story.