Construction employment declined in three of the state's four major metropolitan areas over the year ending in March, but a spate of recent project announcements is expected to turn those numbers around.

 

"The numbers basically seem like the industry is responding in fits and spikes to the recovery," said Scott Norvell, executive director of Master Builders of Iowa, which represents the state's construction industry.

 

Construction employment in Greater Des Moines dropped 2 percent over the year ending in March, to 12,100 from 12,300. The largest decline was in the Quad Cities, which lost 700 jobs over the period. The only gain was in the Council Bluffs and Omaha area, where 1,600 jobs were added.

 

Norvell said the start of construction of a fertilizer plant in southeast Iowa combined with Principal Financial Group Inc.'s renovation and the building of a $300 million Facebook Inc. data center in Altoona will cause a spike in construction employment.

 

Two of the projects alone are estimated to create 4,500 jobs. The nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing plant near Wever would need 2,500 construction workers and the Facebook project would require 2,000.

 

"The real question is whether this is just another spike or is it what you can look at as a longer-term recovery," Norvell said. "We think the jury is still out on that."

 

Still, efforts by the Iowa Economic Development Authority to bring new business to the state should pay off in commercial construction, which will lead to gains in home building and the overall economy, Norvell said.

 

One drag on construction employment will be a lack of skilled workers, many of whom left the industry during the recession and have not returned. The recession interrupted training sessions that were underway. In addition, the industry has an aging workforce.