This article is part of a five-part series looking at the most up-and-coming U.S. markets for commercial construction.
When it comes to construction, Columbus, Ohio, is hot and getting hotter.
For nearly a decade, the capital of the Buckeye State has enjoyed an influx of employers and residents that culminated in a year of construction like none other in the city’s history. Construction starts in the metropolitan area were estimated at $6 billion in 2019 — 18% more than the year before — and industry watchers say they could go even higher for 2020.
The jobs driving this growth come from a range of well-known public and private sources: Ohio State University, Google, Facebook and corporate headquarters for companies like Victoria's Secret, Cardinal Health and Nationwide Insurance.
Some top Columbus construction firms
|Messer Construction Co.
|Miles-McClellan Construction Co.
|Gutknecht Construction Co.
The metropolitan area’s population has grown by nearly 11% in the past decade, and an additional 1 million residents are expected in the next 30 years, according to the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio.
The area also is seeing a massive uptick in office and bank construction and highway and bridge jobs, said Barton Hacker, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors Central Ohio Chapter.
But most notably, Columbus and its suburbs are transforming into a logistics and technology hub, thanks to massive data facilities from Facebook, Google and Amazon. "It's changing the landscape of the city," Hacker said.
These tech giants have been lured to Central Ohio in part by huge tax cuts and an abundant and convenient source of electrical power. For instance, Holder Construction broke ground Nov. 1 on a Google data center in the northeastern Columbus suburb of New Albany. The new location will cost $600 million and cover 440 acres, with completion expected by early 2021. New Albany included an incentive package that offered 100% property tax abatement for 15 years and agreed to waive up to $250,000 in building and permitting fees.
The state of Ohio approved a 100%, 15-year exemption on sales taxes for data centers that would be worth $43.5 million over the life the credit and renewable for up to 40 years, according to Columbus Business First.
More on the way
And it's not just tech companies behind the building boom, Hacker said. The housing necessary to accommodate the burgeoning population is filling up Columbus' downtown and suburbs. The $1.5 billion Evans Farm, a walkable, New Urbanism development in nearby Delaware County, is already underway, with plans for homes, retail, restaurants, parks, offices and schools.
There are also many healthcare projects underway and $2.4 billion worth of construction activity at Ohio State University, according to Columbus Business First, including a new medical tower that's expected to cost more than $1 billion.
The Columbus Crew SC is building a new $300 million soccer stadium, and five downtown hotels are under construction, including a $220 million, 28-story Hilton set to become Columbus’ first 1,000-room hotel, which Hacker called "a huge milestone for Columbus as a major convention destination."
The downside to all this construction activity, Hacker said, is trying to find enough skilled trade workers in a pool already stretched thin. There are construction crews coming in from out of state in an effort to make up the difference, and more than 60 projects approved in 2019 have still not broken ground because of the shortage.
The challenges are all part of the city's growth that is attracting so many new residents and companies, Hacker said.
"It's very exciting," he said.