DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor area added more new construction jobs during the past year than 75 percent of 339 metro areas as employment in the local industry hit a seven-year high, according to an analysis released by the Associated General Contractors of America.
However, local construction jobs in the area are at risk amid short-and-long-term uncertainty about federal highway and transit funding, the association's chief economist warned.
"It has been too long since we have had news like this to report here in Cleveland," said Ken Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. "As welcome as this news is, the looming threat of a slowdown in federal highway funding could cost this area hundreds of construction jobs."
Simonson noted that the Cleveland metro area added 5,300 new construction jobs between June 2013 and June 2014, a 15 percent increase. He added that, out of the 339 metro areas the association tracks, only eight metro areas added more new construction jobs. There are 41,000 people working in construction in the Cleveland metro area today, up from 35,700 a year ago. The association economist added that local construction employment in the area is at the highest June level since 2007.
The recent increases in construction employment in Cleveland represent a significant change from a years-long construction downturn that has eliminated nearly one out of every six construction jobs that existed in the area since June 2000, a loss of 8,000 jobs. He added that 25 percent of the construction jobs that existed throughout Ohio in 2000 have disappeared.
The construction economist said that Cleveland was not alone. Nationwide, 215 out of 339 metro areas added new construction jobs between June 2013 and June 2014, including the Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Akron areas. But he cautioned that 80 metro areas lost construction jobs during the same time period, including the Toledo, Steubenville and Youngstown areas. Employment levels were stagnant in another 44 areas.
Simonson cautioned that the local increase in construction employment could be undermined if Congress fails to pass a temporary fix to the federal Highway Trust Fund that will keep federal funding at current levels. Unless Congress acts soon, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be forced to cut federal highway investments in August, potentially threatening hundreds of local road construction jobs.
Passing a temporary extension will only delay, not solve, the revenue problems that have caused the Highway Trust Fund to repeatedly drop to dangerously low levels, Simonson added. He said the association was also urging Congress to act quickly to pass a long-term surface transportation bill that keeps the Highway Trust Fund solvent for years to come.
"If federal funding uncertainty forces local construction employment to fall again, the entire Cleveland area would suffer as the impacts of those job losses ripple through the broader economy," Simonson noted. "States like Ohio shouldn't be left out to dry when it comes to federal highway investments."
This year, ODOT has held three workshops to attract more minority-owned construction companies to their projects across northeast Ohio.