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Utility, energy projects spike construction start figures for first half of 2015

Source: Dodge Data & Analytics, New York

Total construction starts on an unadjusted basis reached $336 billion during the first six months of this year, up 23 percent from the same period in 2014, Dodge Data & Analytics reports. Excluding electric utility and gas plant category activity, figures for the first half of 2015 would be up a more moderate 11 percent from the same period a year ago.

The January–June increases came from a varied pattern by geography. The strongest year-to-date gain was reported in the South Central region, up 57 percent, which reflected the boost coming from massive energy and petrochemical plant projects. The next strongest year-to-date gain was reported in the Northeast, up 27 percent, with support coming from further increases for multifamily housing and office buildings in the New York metropolitan area. The remaining three regions showed the following year-to-date growth for total construction starts—the South Atlantic, up 15 percent; the West, up 6 percent; and, the Midwest, up 5 percent.

For the first six months of 2015, nonbuilding construction jumped 62 percent compared to the same period a year ago. The electric power and gas plant category soared 351 percent, lifted by the start of three LNG export terminal projects located in Corpus Christi, Texas ($9.0 billion), Hackberry, La. ($8.4 billion) and Freeport, Texas ($6.0 billion), plus a liquefied petroleum gas export terminal in Freeport, Texas ($1.5 billion) and a LNG receiving terminal in Ingleside, Texas ($1.0 billion).

While the dollar amount of gas-related projects climbed sharply in the first half of 2015, 71 percent growth was also reported for power plant projects, led by several large solar farms in California. The public works categories as a group were up 14 percent in the first half of 2015, helped by a strong showing for highway and bridge construction that advanced 30 percent relative to a sluggish first half of 2014.

The top five states ranked by the dollar amount of highway and bridge construction starts during the first half of 2015 were Florida (reflecting the start of a $2.3 billion upgrade to Interstate 4), California, Texas, New York and Illinois. The environmental public works categories showed a varied performance through June 2015, with sewer construction, up 19 percent; water supply construction, up 6 percent; and, river/harbor development, down 2 percent. The miscellaneous public works category decreased 15 percent from its first half 2014 pace, which featured the start of several large mass transit projects.

At the six-month mark of 2015, nonresidential building increased 4 percent compared to a year ago. The commercial building group held steady with its year ago pace, aided by a substantial 41 percent increase for hotel construction but dampened by declines for stores, down 3 percent; office buildings, down 8 percent; and, warehouses, down 12 percent.

The year-to-date decline for office buildings came as the result of the comparison to the first half of 2014 that included $2.3 billion for the office portion of the $2.5 billion Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. If the Apple headquarters project is excluded, the office building category in the first half of 2015 would be up 12 percent. Over the January-June period of 2015, the top five office markets ranked by the dollar amount of new construction starts were the following—New York, Seattle, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Denver.

The manufacturing plant category in the first six months of 2015 was up 5 percent compared to last year, while the institutional building group gained 6 percent.
For the first six months of 2015, residential building in dollar terms was up 17 percent from the same period a year ago, showing some improvement from the 10 percent annual gain reported for 2014. Multifamily housing registered a year-to-date increase of 29 percent, maintaining the upward movement that’s been present over the past five years.

Single family housing year-to-date was up 13 percent, reflecting both the comparison to the lackluster volume in the first half of 2014 and the slight yet uneven improvement that emerged in the second half of 2014 and has carried over into 2015. By major region, the pattern for single family housing during the first half of 2015 compared to last year was the following—the West, up 21 percent; the South Atlantic, up 17 percent; the South Central, up 10 percent; the Midwest, up 6 percent; and, the Northeast, down 6 percent.