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Building rebound lagging

Locally, a few firms are busy; others struggle

National numbers show a surge coming in construction projects.

Bloomberg News reported this week that about 250,000 construction and related jobs will be created in 2013.

But like many trends, the building blitz is taking its time finding northeast Indiana, local experts say.

Michael Lauer, area representative for Carpenters Local 232, said 2012 was a little better than 2011 or 2010 but “not by any leaps and bounds.”

Some companies have logged work into next year and some are still struggling, he said. “I guess it depends who you talk to.”

Some of his 780 members have found work on a $4 billion bridge project that will connect southern Indiana to Kentucky. About 65 percent of Local 232’s members are working this week.

“We just keep hoping and praying that some (new) projects go crazy,” Lauer said.

Ron Menze, a partner in local architecture firm Morrison, Kattman & Menze, keeps up with charts and graphs posted on the American Institute of Architects’ website.

The latest data show the Midwest trailing the South, Northeast and West in construction growth. But all four regions reflect at least modest growth.

“I’ve seen those national trends,” Menze said. “I haven’t seen them here yet.”

Billing by architecture firms, which design the project, is a leading indicator of construction growth. AIA data show the residential building sector is bouncing back faster than the commercial sector.

Morrison, Kattman & Menze has been keeping its 16-member staff busy. The firm specializes in institutional projects, including hospitals and schools.

“We’re fine and stable,” Menze said.

Although the architecture firm has been receiving more inquiries for work, it seems as though people are always waiting for some deadline to pass before they decide to go ahead with a project, Menze said.

Recently, it was the presidential election. These days, organizations are awaiting resolution to the so-called fiscal cliff. Almost 90 percent of Americans would face higher taxes next year if Congress fails to avert $400 billion in scheduled tax hikes and $100 billion in spending cuts.

Economists say failure to act could send the country back into recession.

Northeast Indiana’s construction industry has been propped up in recent years by hospital projects, including the $550 million Parkview Regional Medical Center project, and a hefty investment by General Motors Co.

GM is investing $275 million in equipment and construction to outfit its Allen County truck assembly plant to build the next-generation Silverado and Sierra. Production is scheduled to start in 2013.

Joe Langmeyer, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 305, said several hundred workers have been deployed to the GM project.

2012 has “been pretty good,” he said.

Local 305 represents 715 families, including about 215 retired. This week, about 500 members are working.

Langmeyer expects 2013 to be better than the second half of this year.

“Some of this might be just wishing it will be better,” he said.

Some upcoming work includes a $50 million expansion project at BF Goodrich, a $5.8 million expansion at Voss Automotive Inc. and Steel Dynamics Inc.’s $27 million expansion in Columbia City.

“There’s a lot of projects on the table like that,” Langmeyer said.

As a result, the area has seen steady demand for trained electricians.

“If they’re not working,” he said, “it’s because they’re taking a break.”

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