If I worked in economic development, I’d totally link to this column

By: Deon Roberts, editor//January 16, 2012//

If I worked in economic development, I’d totally link to this column

By: Deon Roberts, editor//January 16, 2012//

Listen to this article

Winter isn’t feeling very wintery in much of the U.S., and the warm temperatures are putting people in a panic.

For example, in Ohio, up around Lake Erie, the ice fishing industry is still waiting for some ice and, in the meantime, losing money.

In Michigan, ski resorts and those in the snowmobile biz are praying for snow, an ingredient that is pretty important to their business model.

Some colder weather would also be helpful for makers of “ice wine,” an expensive dessert drink — some bottles can cost $90 or more — that comes from grapes that are pressed while they are still frozen. Ice wine producers can be found from Minnesota to New York, but the warmer weather has meant some of them have been churning out less ice wine this winter.

But while officials in the industries above are saying “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” the construction industry thinks this milder winter is pretty cool, because it’s allowing more construction during a time of the year when activity tends to slow down because of snow and ice.

On Jan. 6, the Associated General Contractors of America said U.S. construction employment grew by 17,000 in December as warmer-than-normal weather extended the construction season. For the commercial construction industry, it was encouraging news with which to kick off the new year.

In Charlotte, snow is never really a big headache for the construction industry, and I’m not sure why I spent all that time talking about weather in other parts of the country other than I just needed to fill space.

Still, while general contractors in the Northeast might be optimistic thanks to a warmer winter — who said climate change was a bad thing? — construction industry officials in Charlotte have their own reasons to be excited as 2012 kicks off.

Yes, construction activity in Charlotte isn’t at the level it was before the downturn. (In 2007, Mecklenburg County issued 22,943 building permits, compared with 14,336 last year, a decline of 37.5 percent.) And some developers might still stand a better chance of winning the Nobel Prize in physics for coming up with a unified field theory than getting lending for a construction project.

Despite those realities, there are positives that Charlotte’s construction industry can focus on as a new year begins, some silver linings that, if I write about them in this column, some economic development organizations in this region might post it to their websites.

For one, some construction companies stand to get fatter wallets thanks to the Democratic National Convention. Just last week, DNC officials announced that prequalification forms were available for construction companies interested in subcontracting work. There will be job for those with expertise in acoustical panel ceilings; carpentry; arena seating removal, storage and reinstallation; and drywall, among other things. The forms are due March 1. They can be found at demconvention.com.

Also, a flurry of church construction projects is creating jobs in Charlotte, praise God. Charlotte-based Edifice, for one, broke ground last year on a 51,000-square-foot, $10 million addition to Calvary Church in south Charlotte.

And, of course, the multifamily sector promises to keep producing work for construction companies, as demand for rental properties shows no sign of letting up.

Another sign that the construction sector could be rebounding: Some companies are hiring, trying to beef up their staff in 2012 to prepare for what they hope will be an uptick in work.

“We’ve just brought on a handful of new people,” Daniel Levine, president of Levine Properties, a real estate management and development company, told me this month. “We think 2012 at some point is going to make a turn, and we want to get prepared for it.”

Levine said the company hired a chief operating officer, construction manager, marketing representative and administrative assistant — all within the past eight to nine weeks.

“That’s a pretty fair amount of people for an office that has about 22 people in it,” including the new hires, he said.

Levine Properties is buying property in Charlotte, primarily to build multifamily projects, he said. One property is on Monroe Road. Another is by the Metropolitan mixed-use complex in Midtown.

“We need people,” he said, “we need boots on the ground, to execute not only what we have in our sights, but the opportunities that I think will be coming along this year either to buy existing product and reposition it or to buy good land and develop it.”

Roberts can be reached at [email protected].

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