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Pascagoula tops in construction job growth

Some contractors in Pascagoula, particularly those who were members of the local Associated General Contractors (AGC), were unhappy and were quick to let the local chapter know it in 2010 when a national AGC report had the Coast city losing the most construction jobs of any metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the entire country.

Three years later, the community is back atop an AGC national ranking, but this time contractors are all smiles.

The current AGC report shows Pascagoula’s construction job growth from February 2012 to February 2013 was 51 percent — more than double the increase of any MSA in the U.S. during that time.

Perry Nations was the head of the AGC of Mississippi in 2010, and it was he who heard criticism of the report that year from his members. His son, Lee Nations, now leads the state chapter.

Lee Nations has not heard any complaints this time from his members, and is guardedly optimistic about the future.

“We’re definitely past the trough,” he said.

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Nations added that the Pascagoula MSA is small, and its numbers are more readily affected by local events, such as hiring at Pascagoula-based Ingalls Shipbuilding.

It is certainly a huge leap in the right direction for the Pascagoula MSA. In June 2010, AGC released its report showing Pascagoula tied (with Flagstaff, Ariz.) for the highest percentage of year-over-year construction job decline at 32 percent.

Local contractors complained that the report had Pascagoula on top percentage-wise, but that the MSA did not lose the most total jobs. That was true — Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill., lost 21,300 jobs, compared to Pascagoula’s -2,000 jobs.

Also, contractors pointed out that Pascagoula’s 2010 job figure included numbers from the mining and logging industries, which skewed its numbers.

However, many other MSAs in the 2010 ranking had mining and logging figures intermixed with construction numbers. And, while Chicago-Joliet-Naperville had more than 10 times the job loss compared to the Coast city, that represented a 15 percent decrease, less than half that of Pascagoula.

Now, that is a distant memory as Pascagoula is back on top — solidly. In February 2012, the MSA showed employment of 3,500 (which includes mining and logging). Over the year, it added 1,800 jobs, bringing total employment to 5,300 workers.

That 51 percent increase, in essence, lapped the nation. The second-highest increase was in El Centro, Calif., at 23 percent. Anchorage, Alaska (22 percent), Fargo, N.D.-Minn. (20 percent), and Merced, Calif. (20 percent), were the only other MSAs in the country to post an increase of 20 percent of better.

By comparison, Mississippi as a whole and the other three local MSAs underperformed. From February 2012-February 2013, the state netted 500 construction jobs, a 1 percent increase from 47,600 workers to 48,100. (Factoring in mining and logging, and the state still showed a 1 percent increase).

The Memphis, Tenn.-Ark.-Miss. MSA added 500 jobs, representing a 3 percent year-over-year increase.

The state’s other two MSAs were both in the red. Jackson (the only MSA whose figures did not include mining and logging) lost 300 jobs and was down 3 percent while Pascagoula’s neighbor, Biloxi-Gulfport, shed 200 jobs, a 4 percent decrease.

Compared to the nation, Pascagoula’s numbers are more impressive. More than half of the MSAs in the nation —181 of 339 — posted construction employment in February 2013 that was either unchanged or down compared to February 2012.

The largest job losses were in Northern Virginia (-3,100 jobs); Cincinnati-Middletown, Ohio-Ky.-Ind. (-2,400 jobs); and, Raleigh-Cary, N.C. (-2,300 jobs).

On the national level, construction employment is trending positively compared to June 2010. In that AGC report, construction employment declined in 285 out of 337 MSAs from June 2009-June 2010. Only 132 MSAs declined from February 2012-February 2013.

Still, a cautious optimism remains.

“While construction employment continues to decline in many parts of the country, the number of communities experiencing gains continues to expand,” said Ken Simonson, the AGC’s chief economist. “But the twin threats of additional public sector construction cuts and a looming shortage of certain types of construction workers could hurt the industry just as it is beginning to recover.”



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