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Las Vegas loses 13,400 construction jobs in last year

Construction employment grew or remained steady in 120 out of 337 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas in the 12-month period through November, but Las Vegas was not one of them, the Associated General Contractors reported Tuesday.

Phoenix was No. 1 with 3,100 construction jobs added during that time, a 4 percent increase, according to AGC’s analysis of new federal employment data.

Other areas showing job growth included Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y. (2,200 jobs, 3 percent); Pittsburgh (2,100 jobs, 4 percent); Greeley, Colo. (1,400 jobs, 16 percent); and Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas (900, 5 percent).

Las Vegas lost 13,400 construction jobs, a 23 percent decrease, the Washington, D.C.-based contractors association reported. Overall, the city has lost an estimated 55,000 construction jobs since the recession began — roughly half of its construction work force — leading to one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates at 14.3 percent in November.

Chicago lost more construction jobs (-14,800 jobs, -11 percent) than Las Vegas. Also showing declines were Los Angeles (-8,100 jobs, -7 percent); Atlanta (-6,400 jobs, -7 percent); and Oakland, Calif. (-5,900 jobs, -11 percent). Napa, Calif. (-1,900 jobs, -33 percent) lost the highest percentage.

Construction employment was unchanged in 49 metro areas.

Association officials said construction employment is improving slightly thanks in large part to temporary federal funding for stimulus and military construction.

“It is good to see the construction industry finishing the year on a relatively positive note,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But even if the industry is no longer on the brink, it is still a long way from recovering.”

Nevada’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reported that 20,045 jobs have been lost in the construction industry year-to-date through November, a 24.3 percent annual decline, though the decline continued to slow for the sixth straight month.

The state’s leisure and hospitality industry cut 2,900 positions between October and November, while the construction industry shed 1,500 jobs. For the first time since February 1995, construction employment fell below 60,000 jobs in Nevada.

Both Las Vegas and Reno-Sparks benefitted from massive construction growth in the years leading up to the recession, economist Jered McDonald of Nevada’s employment department said.

From 1997 to 2007, the construction industry added 39,100 jobs in Las Vegas and 8,900 in Reno-Sparks. Since then, construction employment in Las Vegas is down 54,900 jobs and Reno is down 12,000 jobs. Combined, that’s roughly 19,000 more construction jobs lost in the last three years than were gained in the previous 10 years.

Those jobs won’t return anytime soon, said Jake Joyce, project manager for Las Vegas business advisory firm Applied Analysis.

Traditional new-home construction in Las Vegas has fallen to 200 to 300 homes a month, compared with more than 2,000 a month in 2006. Commercial building permit activity is at its lowest level in a decade, with few large projects in the pipeline.

“As more of these projects are completed — Cosmo, Hoover Dam bypass, the VA hospital — the reality for our economy and for workers themselves is there is no next job,” Joyce said. “Residential construction picked up in several areas, but we don’t see that here. With commercial space, we’ve got unprecedented supply-demand imbalance and years of excess vacancy.”

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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