The value of April nonresidential construction starts fell 7.2% from March to April, veering sharply from the usual seasonal monthly bump of 12%, according to ConstructConnect.
The commercial category plummeted 35.4% month-over-month, but industrial was hit the hardest, tumbling 72% from March. The modest gains in heavy engineering (10.4%) and institutional (27.9%) were not enough to reverse the overall negative trend.
Year-over-year, total starts values were down 22.8% in April 2017 while year-to-date values were down 1.6%. Still on an upward trend, heavy and civil engineering was the lone category to grow during the yearly and year-to-date periods, up 21.9% and 29.7%, respectively, from the prior year.
Architecture and engineering employment, which is one leading indicator of construction activity to come, increased 3.5% year-over-year in April, while overall construction employment was up 2.6% for the period, ConstructConnect reported. Still, construction payroll growth was relatively slow in April and March.
The cooldown in employment gains, according to the Associated Builders and Contractors, reflects the industry's ongoing struggle to find enough skilled workers. Still, the year-over-year increase in construction employment, ConstructConnect reported, beat the 1.6% growth recorded for the overall economy, showing strength in the construction industry.
The 10 biggest project starts in April ranged from $177 million to $1.5 billion, with two projects at or above the $1 billion mark. The top five nonresidential projects by dollar value were the Valley Crossing Pipeline — Corpus Christi, TX ($1.5 billion); Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Renovations — Arlington, VA ($1 billion); Scudder Falls Bridge Replacement — Trenton, NJ ($396 million); The Crossing at Jamaica Station — Queens, NY ($300 million); and the Multnomah County Central Courthouse – Portland, OR ($300 million).
Dodge Data & Analytics has not yet issued its starts-value figures for April, but the data company's figures for March included a 5% increase in the value of starts from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $743.7 billion for the month. ConstructConnect reported a 17.8% increase in nonresidential construction starts from February to March.
The third-straight month of growth, in March, is largely attributed to the 41% surge in office construction, a 16% jump in the public works category and a 4% rise in residential construction, according to Dodge.