A new analysis of salaries, job availability and the cost of living in 383 cities across the country has identified the best places for construction workers to prosper.
The top places identified by insurance information provider AdvisorSmith are small and midsize cities that generally pay above-average construction wages and also feature modest costs of living and dense concentrations of construction jobs. The study was based on general construction laborers who perform manual labor on jobsites.
AdvisorSmith CEO Adrian Mak told Construction Dive that there are many reasons why smaller cities make lucrative locations for construction pros. For one thing, in larger cities, workers of all types generally have to contend with higher costs of living, he said.
In the cities selected by his firm, construction jobs are frequently driven by a major employer's construction program, such as a hospital system expanding, a city executing a capital plan renovating roads and bridges or a resource extraction employer.
"Additionally, a single employer's construction program in a large city does not have as big of an effect on the concentration of constructions jobs in the context of a city economy that is larger on an absolute scale," he said.
Plus, construction firms in smaller cities may pay higher-than-average construction wages in order to attract construction workers to their cities, he added.
"Since they draw from a small labor pool, there may be a need for an incentive in order to convince workers to move to the city. Additionally, if the small city's construction market is driven by nonprofits or governments, they may have union or fair pay requirements that private developments may not require," he said.
Data was sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data release from May 2019, and the study reflects metropolitan statistical data for salaries, jobs and population data. It compared construction pay in U.S. cities to the average salary for construction workers nationwide, which is $41,730.
Mak said the effects of the coronavirus pandemic may alter some of the study's findings because the outbreak will likely lead to reduced spending in both private and public capital programs.
"It's too early to know how different cities will be impacted," he said. "Cities in which construction was driven by spending on tourism-related construction may be the most likely to feel an impact. Depending on how long the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, cities with retail, entertainment and office construction may also be impacted."
"We have seen many cities continue or even accelerate their public construction projects which in some cases have become easier to complete due to shutdowns or lower than normal traffic," Mak said.
Below are the top five cities for construction workers based on AdvisorSmith's survey and the firm's reasoning behind each selection:
1. Springfield, Illinois
Construction workers in Springfield earned an average salary of $52,520, which was 26% above the national average, while benefiting from a cost of living 12% below the national average. Much of the city’s economy is tied to the state government, with Illinois being the largest employer in the city. Additionally, medical facilities account for substantial employment in the city, and some of the major construction projects include work at the Memorial Medical Center, St. John’s Hospital and Springfield Clinic.
2. Farmington, New Mexico
Farmington had 1,570 jobs for construction workers, which was 375% more jobs per capita than the national average. Although the average construction wage in Farmington was $34,770, which was below the national average, the city’s cost of living was also 7% below the national average.
Farmington is a commercial hub for the northwest region of the state. Primary industries there are based on resource extraction and include petroleum, natural gas, and coal. Farmington is also conducting major construction on the revitalization of its downtown.
3. Wheeling, West Virginia
The city of Wheeling was host to 690 construction worker jobs, and those workers earned an average salary of $45,040, which was 8% above the national average wage. Additionally, there were 54% more jobs for construction workers in Wheeling on a per capita basis than the national average, and the city’s cost of living was 15% less than average.
A major construction in Wheeling is the rehabilitation of 26 bridges along Interstate 70.
4. Binghamton, New York
Binghamton’s construction workers earned an average wage of $50,830, which was 22% above the national average. The city also had 26% more construction jobs on a per capita basis compared with the national average. Those workers enjoy a cost of living that is 6% below the national average.
Some of the major construction projects in the city include the city’s sewage plant modernization and the Canal Plaza Grocery Store.
5. Huntington, West Virginia
The city’s 1,700 construction workers earned an average wage of $42,920, which was slightly above the national average, while benefiting from a cost of living that is 15% below the national average. Huntington also had 88% more construction jobs on a per-capita basis compared with the national average.
Among other projects in the city, some of its old office buildings are being converted into condos for residential use.
Rounding out the rest of the top 10 are:
- Mount Vernon, Washington
- Saginaw, Michigan
- Decatur, Illinois
- Fairbanks, Alaska
- Evansville, Indiana