In its July 2017 North American Crane Index report, construction research firm Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) counted nearly 400 fixed cranes in use across 14 major North American cities, indicating continued, steady activity in the construction industry.
The number of cranes has increased in active U.S. construction markets like Denver, Portland, OR, and Los Angeles, and it has held steady in Boston, Honolulu, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. The crane count declined in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Austin, TX.
Cities where crane counts have declined still have projects in the pipeline that could boost construction crane numbers once again. Demand for residential, commercial and mixed-use space is the primary driver of growth in metros that have seen an increase in the number of cranes.
Crane counts are an indicator of construction activity, but they mostly serve as a snapshot of a narrow window of time. For example, in its previous index in January 2017, RLB said that crane use showed movement away from mixed-use projects. In that report, the number of cranes fell in Los Angeles, Phoenix and New York, yet they increased in Chicago, Seattle and Austin. Meanwhile, Seattle and Chicago had the most cranes in use.
RLB's findings echo those of its North American Quarterly Construction Cost Report. The company's second-quarter cost report pointed toward a positive close to 2017 thanks to average project bid costs coming in higher than the actual costs of labor and materials. In times of economic trouble, RLB said, those two figures inch closer together as contractors shave proposed margins to make their bids more competitive.
That report also called attention to the skilled-labor shortage. It said the issue was specific to sector, location and trade, rather than affecting businesses nationwide in the same way. The labor shortage has become a major talking point in the industry, with groups like the Associated Builders and Contractors calling on lawmakers to boost spending for secondary and post-secondary vocational education and apprenticeships and to support other initiatives that will help attract and retain newcomers to the industry.