Construction jobs have continued to grow over the last year in San Antonio, a bright spot in a country where the industry nationwide has largely contracted because of the pandemic.
The contrast gains new relevance in light of a report released Thursday from the Associated General Contractors, which found that large numbers of construction companies have laid off workers as demand for new construction has dramatically shrunk. Public agencies and private owners have become hesitant about starting new projects during the pandemic, the report said.
Although San Antonio’s figures are relatively rosy, national experts are concerned.
“This is clearly going to be a difficult year for the construction industry,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the trade group’s chief executive officer, in a press release. “Demand looks likely to continue shrinking, projects are getting delayed or canceled, productivity is declining, and few firms plan to expand their headcount.”
The Association’s 2021 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook Survey found that three times as many contractors have experienced postponements and cancellations than those companies that have seen new or expanded projects.
Houston’s construction industry led the nation in job losses this past year, shedding 22,500, or 9 percent, of total jobs.
But the San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area has continued its pace of “virtually nonstop growth” in construction employment enjoyed since 2012, said Ken Simonson, the trade group’s chief economist, pointing to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even in the last year, construction employment in the region increased by 600 jobs, or 1 percent, to a new total of 58,600. The figures place San Antonio among the mere third of the country’s metro areas that added construction jobs from November 2019 to November 2020.
One of those companies adding new jobs is FA Nunnelly General Contractor, a nearly century-old construction company in San Antonio involved with the $141 million renovation of the former Frost Bank tower downtown, now known as City Tower.
Company President Blaine Beckman said that while he thought the pandemic would be “catastrophic,” Nunnelly has grown instead, now accommodating bigger and more complicated projects.
“With a pandemic, the nozzle can shut off immediately,” he said, referring to new developer projects. But even as the uncertainty created by the pandemic has complicated the search for new opportunities, Beckman said the company is already looking to build its backlog for 2022 and beyond.
He attributed the company’s growth to business-friendly practices on the part of the state and the city, which among other measures has expedited many bond-funded building projects.
Doug McMurry, the executive vice president of the trade group’s San Antonio chapter, said the city’s growth was its biggest protector against the pandemic’s effects.
“A growing city requires a lot of carpenters, electricians, and plumbers,” McMurry said.
San Antonio has for years ranked among the fastest growing cities in the country. Nearly a quarter million new residents came to the city in the past decade.
It’s not just the growth in population numbers, McMurry said, but the companies that are relocating to the city or expanding in it. “Companies want to come here. They want to stay here, and they want to grow here,” he said.
He pointed as an example to Navistar, an Illinois-based truck manufacturer that broke ground over the summer for an upcoming $250 million plant on the South Side.
Construction is slated to complete in 2022 for the facility, which will span 900,000 square feet of concrete, steel, and roadways – all of which will need to be laid by workers.