Ohio's Construction Deals Soared Last Year

A total of $2.4 billion worth of contracts were signed in 2010, with commercial construction up 137%.

In another positive sign for the construction industry in central Ohio, McGraw-Hill Construction said last week that the dollar value of contracts for future construction increased by 75 percent last year compared with 2009.

A total of $2.4 billion worth of contracts were signed in 2010. The increase was nearly all in commercial construction, which rose 137 percent from the previous year. Nationally, the value of nonresidential contracts fell by 8 percent.

Central Ohio numbers for residential contracts were more in line with national trends. Locally, the value of residential contracts rose by 10 percent, a bit more than the 7 percent nationally.

Two Ohio State University projects accounted for $500 million: the Medical Center expansion and the renovation of the south high-rise dormitories, said Kim Kennedy, a researcher for McGraw-Hill.

The publicly financed Hilton Columbus Downtown, which is being built across from the Greater Columbus Convention Center, contributed an additional $96 million.

Work on all three projects began last year. McGraw-Hill assigns the full value of a project to the month when it starts, Kennedy said.

The McGraw numbers are in line with research released two weeks ago by the Associated General Contractors of America. That trade group said that central Ohio added more construction jobs than any other metropolitan area in the country between December 2009 and December 2010.

Both organizations were quick to note that last year's gains are being compared to 2009, a terrible year for the construction industry because of the recession and the effects of the financial crisis.

Local construction executives say they're encouraged by recent signs but aren't expecting a dramatic turnaround this year.

"Our sense for 2011 is that we're not going to continue the kind of growth percentage-wise that we saw in 2010," said Jim Smith, president of Columbus-based Elford Construction. "We expect maybe just a slight uptick from 2010, driven mainly by health-care and higher-education projects. We don't see a big return with significant employment gains this year, but we'll take it. It's better than declines."

Health care in particular will drive steady increases in local construction this year, said Rob Verst Jr., vice president of the Columbus office of Messer Construction.

Like Smith, Verst said he's happy just to see the trend moving in the right direction.

"The ice is starting to melt," Verst said.