In Utah, construction job picture improves

Survey • Levels still in negative territory, St. George numbers ninth worst in U.S.
This is an archived article that was published on in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Job losses in Utah's construction industry are slowing down, according to November figures from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA).

The industry employed 78,000 workers statewide last month, 4 percent fewer than in November 2009. That figure represents a steady improvement since June, when construction jobs were down 7 percent from a year earlier, but still reflects a decline of 40,000 jobs since the industry's peak in 2008.

"Unemployment is horribly high by our standards," said Richard Thorn, president of the AGCA's Utah affiliate, describing St. George's 18 percent year-over-year job decline as "depression range."

But like his national counterparts, Thorn sees slightly better days ahead. "Are we in a complete doldrum?" he asked rhetorically. "No. But we're not in the robust days we saw five to six years ago, either."

Across the country, construction employment remained steady or increased in 120 of 337 metropolitan areas between the Novembers of 2009 and 2010.

"It is good to see the construction industry finishing the year on a relatively positive note," said Ken Simonson, AGCA's chief economist. "But even if the industry is no longer on the brink, it is still a long way from recovering."

Seventy metro areas added jobs last year, led by Phoenix (3,100, a 4 percent increase). Other big gainers were Hanford-Corcoran, Calif., Pittsburgh, Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., Greeley, Colo. and Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas.

In Utah, the Provo-Orem area provided the most job opportunities for construction workers. But employment was still down there by 100 jobs, or 1 percent, from November '09, the AGCA reported.

Salt Lake City and Logan matched the state's average with 4 percent fewer jobs, a ratio that held steady since the AGCA's mid-summer report. The employment situation in the Clearfield-Ogden area also remained the same from summer into winter, but that was not good — down 12 percent.

St. George was far worse off. Its 18 percent year-over-year decline was the ninth worst out of 337 metro areas. But it was a little better than in June, when employment was off 21 percent.

The AGCA's numbers differ slightly from what the Utah Department of Workforce Services listed in its November employment summary, but the impact is similar.

Mark Knold, Workforce Services' chief economist, suggested an earlier onset of winter this year influenced construction companies to accelerate seasonal layoffs.

Cities with the largest yearly declines in construction employment were Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Oakland and Napa, Calif.

Although the federal stimulus package "helped the construction industry go from really hard hit to just hard hit," AGCA CEO Stephen Sandherr said its expiration could mean more job losses in 2011 unless politicians replace the lost funding.

"Passing long-delayed water and transportation infrastructure bills would help give contractors the stability the industry has been lacking for over two years now," Sandherr added.