January Construction Starts Rise 2 Percent


Modest Improvement Follows Two Months of Decline; Highways Slip.

The value of new construction starts in January advanced 2 percent compared to December, reaching a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $722.5 billion, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. The slight gain followed the loss of momentum that was reported towards the end of 2018, with total construction declines of 7 percent in November and 10 percent in December.

Each of the three main construction sectors in January registered modest growth.

  • Residential building climbed 4 percent, lifted by a rebound for multifamily housing.
  • Nonresidential building edged up 1 percent, reflecting a stronger pace for its commercial building segment including large office projects in Reston, Va., Houston, Boston, Austin, Texas, and Seattle.
  • Nonbuilding construction also edged up 1 percent, helped by the start of a $1.0 billion natural gas pipeline in Oklahoma and several large electric utility projects.

Highways and bridges were down 5 percent.

“January’s slight increase suggests that construction starts are beginning to stabilize after the diminished activity reported at the end of last year,” stated Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “This is consistent with the belief that total construction starts for 2019 will be able to stay close to last year’s volume. It’s true that the rate of growth for total construction starts has subsided from the 7 percent annual gain reported back in 2017, but it’s still too early to say that construction activity has made the transition from deceleration to decline.”

Nonresidential Building

Nonresidential building in January was $245.2 billion (annual rate), up 1 percent following a 13 percent slide in December. The commercial building categories as a group rose 4 percent in January. Office construction picked up the pace, climbing 18 percent, and featured groundbreaking for these large projects – the $550 million Reston Gateway office complex (Block A and Block B) in Reston, Va., the $350 million Hines office tower in Houston, the $225 million Amazon at Seaport Square office building in Boston, the $180 million Oracle office complex in Austin, Texas, and the $150 million Amazon Urban Treehouse office building in Seattle.

Hotel construction in January rose 10 percent, helped by the start of the $245 million Westin Anaheim Resort Hotel in Anaheim, Calif., while the commercial garage category advanced 21 percent. Limiting the January increase for the commercial building group were declines for warehouses, down 13 percent; and store construction, down 24 percent.

Despite its January decline, the warehouse category did include the start of several large projects, including a $95 million warehouse complex in Kenosha, Wis., and the $90 million Savannah Port Logistics Center in Pooler, Ga. Manufacturing plant construction in January grew 9 percent, boosted by the start of a $125 million steel plate mill in Baytown, Texas.

The institutional side of nonresidential building slipped 2 percent in January. Educational facilities, the largest nonresidential building category by dollar volume, retreated 10 percent after surging 26 percent in December. Cushioning the downturn for educational facilities was groundbreaking for several large projects, including the $124 million Comal Independent School District High School #5 in New Braunfels, Texas, the $120 million Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, a $109 million high school in Gainesville, Va., and the $102 million Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich, Mass.

The healthcare facilities category in January dropped 11 percent, falling for the third month in a row, although the latest month did include the start of the $175 million University of Central Florida Lake Nora Teaching Hospital in Orlando and the $95 million Covenant Medical Center tower in Lubbock, Texas. Church construction, which experienced a 17 percent hike in December, fell back 34 percent in January.

On the plus side for institutional building, the public buildings category jumped 46 percent in January, lifted by the start of the $525 million Utah State Prison relocation in Salt Lake City. The transportation terminal category, which includes service facilities, climbed 39 percent in January with the boost coming from the start of the $365 million Croton Harmon rail service facility for Metro-North in Croton On Hudson, N.Y., as well as the start of a $90 million airport terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport in Lafayette, La. Amusement-related construction improved 1 percent in January, and included the start of the $167 million renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center in Memphis.

Residential Building

Residential building in January was $309.8 billion (annual rate), up 4 percent and rebounding from its 9 percent slide in December. Multifamily housing bounced back 14 percent following its 15 percent December decline, and was up 1 percent compared to its average monthly pace during 2018. There were five multifamily projects valued at $100 million or more that reached groundbreaking in January, compared to four such projects in December.

The large January multifamily projects were led by the $150 million Watermark at Brooklyn Heights senior apartments in Brooklyn, N.Y., the $146 million multifamily portion of a $250 million mixed-use complex in Washington, D.C., and a $128 million multifamily complex in Oakland.

The top five metropolitan areas ranked by the dollar amount of new multifamily starts in January were – New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco and Charlotte, N.C. Single family housing in January was unchanged from the reduced dollar amount reported for December, which itself was down 6 percent from November.

January’s rate of activity for single-family housing was down 7 percent from the average monthly pace reported during 2018. By major region, single-family housing performed as follows in January compared to December – the West, up 3 percent; the South Central, up 2 percent; the South Atlantic, unchanged; the Northeast, down 3 percent; and the Midwest, down 9 percent.

Nonbuilding Construction

Nonbuilding construction in January was $167.5 billion (annual rate), up 1 percent, which came after a 9 percent retreat in December. The electric utility/gas plant category increased 44 percent in January following a weak December, and January’s level was up 2 percent from the average monthly pace for this highly volatile project type during 2018.

There were two large solar farms entered as construction starts in January – the $550 million Wright Solar Park in Los Banos, Calif., and a $303 million solar farm in the Bakersfield, Calif., area. There were also two large wind farms entered as construction starts in January – the $372 million Goodnight Wind Farm in Claude, Texas, and the $150 million Clean Energy 1 Wind Farm in the Bismarck, N.D., area.

The public works categories as a group dropped 4 percent in January compared to December. Weaker activity was reported for highways and bridges, down 5 percent; sewer construction, down 5 percent; water supply construction, down 22 percent; and river/harbor development, down 34 percent.

The highway and bridge category did include the start of the $229 million First Coast Expressway improvement project in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, the $202 million State Highway 146 improvement project in Pasadena, Texas, and the $169 million Chelsea Bridge improvement project in Chelsea, Mass.

Limiting the public works decline in January was a 20 percent increase for miscellaneous public works, which includes pipelines and mass transit rail projects. Boosting miscellaneous public works in January was the start of the $1.0 billion Midship natural gas pipeline in Oklahoma.

 Monthly Construction Starts (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rates, In Millions of Dollars) Jan. 2019

Dec. 2018

% Change
Nonresidential Building $245,177 $242,521 +1
Residential Building $309,780 $299,046 +4
Nonbuilding Construction $167,545 $166,477 +1
TOTAL Construction $722,502 $708,044 +2
Source: U.S. Dept. of Commerce