Factory project kickoffs continued their tear, rocketing 285% from the month before.
- Total construction starts rose 6% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.3 trillion, according to Dodge Construction Network, buoyed by pickups in the manufacturing and transportation building sectors.
- The two sectors’ gains help lift starts in the broader nonresidential construction category by 40% and kept the overall index in positive territory. For example, residential and nonbuilding construction fell 1% and 14%, respectively, according to Dodge. That bifurcation among sectors tells a story of haves and have nots that’s weighing on the broader industry.
- “Despite the August gain, the construction sector is running uphill,” said Richard Branch, chief economist for Dodge Construction Network, in the release. “Fear of an imminent recession seems to have abated, which should provide a boost of confidence to the sector. However, higher interest rates, labor shortages and significantly tighter lending standards will weigh down starts in the final quarter of the year.”
On a positive note, it was the second consecutive month-to-month increase for project kick offs, marking a move away from a trend of off-again, on-again growth. And across the U.S., total construction starts in August rose in three of four regions – the Midwest, South Atlantic and West. Beginnings in the South Central geography fell.
The report tracks three categories: nonresidential buildings, nonbuilding construction activity and residential buildings.
Manufacturing bolsters nonresidential
Nonresidential building starts gained 40% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $475 billion, Dodge reported, due to the sharp surge in manufacturing projects. Even so, the segment would have gained 24% when excluding these large manufacturing projects.
Commercial starts rose 8% in August, led by gains in parking structures and hotels, and institutional starts rose 35%, with all sectors but dormitories increasing.
Manufacturing was the true workhorse for the sector in August, which saw its starts rise 285% on the backs of two large projects, according to Dodge. On a year-to-date basis through August, total nonresidential starts were 9% lower than that of 2022, and for the 12 months ending August 2023, total nonresidential building starts were 6% higher than that ending August 2022.
The largest nonresidential projects that broke ground in August were:
- The $2.5 billion John Palmour Manufacturing Center for Silicon Carbide in Siler City, North Carolina.
- The $2 billion VinFast electrical vehicle plant in New Hill, North Carolina.
- The $1.4 billion Midfield Satellite Concourse at Los Angeles International Airport in California.
Nonbuilding construction starts shrank in August, falling 14% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $380 billion, per Dodge. The decline follows a July that was buoyed by Bechtel’s $12 billion LNG project in Brownsville, Texas.
Year-to-date through August, nonbuilding starts gained 22%, and for the 12 months ending August 2023, total nonbuilding starts were 20% higher than that of August 2022, Dodge reported.
The largest projects to break ground in the month were:
- The $3.5 billion TransWest Transmission Project spanning Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
- The $2.9 billion Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion projects in Port Sulphur, Louisiana.
- The $1.5 billion New England Clean Energy Connect Power Line in Maine.
Residential shrinks amid high demand
Residential building starts fell 1% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $418 billion, according to Dodge. Single family starts gained 2%, while multifamily starts lost 5%, despite apartment demand skyrocketing this summer, according to the Associated Press.
On a year-to-date basis through August 2023, total residential starts were down 18%, and for the 12 months ending in August 2023, residential starts were 17% lower than in 2022.
The largest multifamily structures to break ground in August were:
- The $530 million Hub on Campus mixed-use building in Knoxville, Tennessee.
- The $425 million 250 Water Street mixed-use tower in New York City.
- The $340 million Ritz Carlton residences in North Palm Beach, Florida.
While starts look back at what has already happened, the American Institute of Architects’ Architecture Billings Index tracks building design work for jobs to come. Its results, which lead actual construction by nine to 12 months, dropped almost two points, from 50 to 48.1, signaling a future pullback in activity.
The group similarly highlighted challenging economic conditions ahead.
“Business conditions at architecture firms continue to be sluggish,” said Kermit Baker, AIA chief economist, in a release sent to Construction Dive. “New project work coming into architecture firms as well [as] ongoing project activity remain stalled in a relatively narrow range and exhibit very little month-to-month variation.”