D.C. construction bucks national trends

10.03.2012


D.C. construction bucks national trends
D.C. construction bucks national trends

The construction industry has been struggling throughout the country for the better part of 2012, with new home builds and commercial construction both staying at low levels with every national industry report. However, the District has been nurturing a strong construction sector for months, and in August, construction staffing jumped to its highest level since 1990, the Washington Post reports.

According to the media outlet, about 14,300 people worked in D.C.'s construction industry last month, up 14 percent from the same period in 2011, new data from the Associated General Contractors of America show.

James Bohnaker, associate economist with Moody’s Analytics, said that "construction has been a relative bright spot” for the region in the years after the recession.

The strong prospects for construction jobs are attributed to a quickly rising population, which has been a saving grace for multi-family residence builders. As the population in D.C. grows, more people are looking to live in apartments to cut down on their commute times and save on gas money, live an urban lifestyle or put off buying a home in a still-shaky economy. This has led to a major demand for new, sprawling apartment complexes, the news provider stated.

But residents alone aren't fueling the construction boom. The commercial sector, too, has had its hand in the rise in construction jobs, with several huge projects creating dozens of new jobs. These projects include the $950 million CityCenterDC build, which is located at the site of the former convention center, Marriott's new convention center hotel and Wal-Mart's first retail store in D.C.

The government's heavy presence in D.C. has also supported the jobs boom, with renovation occurring at several federal buildings.

The times have been good for Davis Construction, which has brought on 47 new employees so far in 2012.

"It has been a strong year," said Debbi Carter, a vice president at Davis, who added that mixed-use residential buildings that will be used for rental housing have been a boon for the company, and led to the workforce growth.

However, this good fortune has not been felt across the entire country, and even neighboring Virginia and Maryland have struggled to boost their construction industries. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for construction workers was 11.3 percent in August, much higher than the 8.1 percent average for all of the country's workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Virginia and Maryland, where the housing market is made up primarily of single family homes, there were 1 percent and 3 percent fewer open construction positions, respectively, than last August.

According to the Post, some analysts have also wondered about the sustainability of D.C.'s current construction jobs boom, saying that as the projects are finished, there may not be a strong enough pipeline to continue growth.

But for now, construction companies are taking advantage of the demand, and bringing on extra help to meet it. Alex Sanguinetti, general manager of Lofft Construction, said he's found a niche in repairing old embassies.

"That’s a great market, because they’re all in old, huge row houses in Kalorama, the Massachusetts [Avenue] corridor," Sanguinetti said.

Neil Stablow, vice president of Donohoe Cos., conceded that business certainly has not returned to levels seen in the promising pre-recession period, but that things are indeed looking up for the sector.

"The demand is there, and the financing is starting to come back," he said. "And so we’re seeing things trending positively."