Worker shortages, rising construction costs and a lack of infrastructure projects are dampening Maine’s construction employment compared with most of the United States, but there are glimmers of growth in some areas of the state.
The Lewiston-Auburn metropolitan area added 100 jobs in December 2018 compared with the number added in December 2017, according to monthly comparative data released Tuesday by the Associated General Contractors of America. The data include construction, mining and logging jobs.
Those 100 jobs brought Lewiston-Auburn’s construction employment up to 2,600, a 4 percent rise when comparing the two Decembers.
While the Bangor area stayed flat at 3,100 jobs, metropolitan Portland and South Portland continued their job slide, losing 200 jobs, or 2 percent, from 9,700 in December 2018 compared with 9,500 in December 2017.
In Bangor, the cost of construction is too high to justify new buildings, Bev Uhlenhake, an agent at Epstein Commercial Real Estate in Bangor, told the Maine Real Estate and Development Association’s annual forecasting conference on Jan. 21.
Parts of Maine bordering New Hampshire saw increases. The Portsmouth, New Hampshire-Maine labor market area, which includes Eliot, Kittery and York, added 200 jobs in December 2018 to reach 2,800, up 8 percent over December 2017.
Likewise, the Dover-Durham, New Hampshire-Maine area, which includes Berwick, South Berwick and Lebanon, added 100 construction jobs to reach 1,800 in December 2018. That’s a 6 percent increase.
The flatness in Bangor and drop in the Portland and South Portland areas were not caused by the federal government shutdown, which came late in December, Associated General Contractors of America spokesman Brian Turmail said.
“Some of it is from the high costs of commercial development and the financing not working out well because of it,” Turmail said. “But there’s also a lack of infrastructure investments having an impact on construction. That is happening nationwide.”
He said the Portland market continues to experience soft demand for construction.
“While many areas of the country are experiencing growth in construction employment, Maine is not experiencing the same growth,” Turmail said.
Construction employment rose in 273 of the 358 metropolitan areas surveyed by the association between December 2017 and December 2018. The group cites strong demand last year for construction projects.
However, the tight labor market conditions nationwide likely prevented additional job gains across the nation last year.
“As welcome as the job gains were, many firms would likely have added even more workers if labor market conditions were not so tight,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist.
The Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area in Texas added the most jobs, while the Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, California, area lost the most.
Statewide in Maine, construction, logging and mining jobs were down 3 percent in December 2018 to 28,900 compared with 29,800 in December 2017. Construction-only jobs also were down 3 percent to 26,600 in December 2018 compared with 27,500 in the prior December.
Maine saw construction jobs decrease for the year from 28,300 in November 2017 to 28,100 in November 2018, and for the month from 28,600 in October 2018, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.