Volume 42, Issue 9 - September 2007

Uneven Current
Commercial Outlook “Mixed” 
Among Midwestern States
by Tami Faram

When it comes to measuring the pace of the commercial and residential construction markets, the Midwest region is less consistent, according to some glass industry business owners in the area.

“The Midwest is a difficult call … it’s not like the Northeast or the West where everything is the same, either up or down,” says Gary Fitch, owner of Youngstown Mirror & Glass Co. in Youngstown, Ohio. “When you talk to six different people around Ohio, [for example] you can get six different answers.”

Fitch says that in other areas of central Ohio, such as Columbus, commercial jobs are more prevalent, but in Eastern Ohio, “the market last year and about the last year-and-a-half has been flat and very unstable … it’s been a hit-and-miss type of bidding and activity.” Large contracts that begin one year and continue into the next are what’s keeping some Midwest glazing companies, such as Fitch’s, going during lean periods. “We had a couple of big contracts last year that have continued through this year,” he says. “We had had a $71 million hospital project for St. Elizabeth Hospital in Boardman, Ohio, just outside of Youngstown.” 

Market Boom
In Minnesota, Mike Gohman of W. Gohman Construction Co. paints a completely different picture. “We’re having a banner year on the commercial side,” Gohman says. “The increase is being driven by government work and it looks like it will continue that way for the next 10 to 18 months.”

Other Midwest glass companies, are getting work from big-building owners, hospitals and universities.

“Chicago is very strong, not only in the residential market, but also we’re seeing some massive hospital projects that we’re bidding this year into next,” says Tom Niepokoj, vice president of sales for Harmon Glass Inc. “We have a backlog of $55 million in various projects. Chicago’s high-rise market also is booming,” he adds.

Niepokoj agrees that statistically, the Midwest market is seeing a wide range of highs and lows.

“Minneapolis is strong but Cleveland and Detroit are weak for us right now,” says Niepokoj, “not only in backlogs, but what we see coming down the pike.” “Indiana a year ago was very strong,” he adds, “but there’s nothing significant there we are chasing right now.”

Industry Forecasts
According to the U.S. Industry Regional Statistical Review and Forecast, published by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA), there is a similar “lagging” in new construction overall for Midwest companies. 

The AAMA/WDMA report splits the Midwest in two regions: the East North Central and West North Central. The East North Central region includes Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan and offers the following forecasting trends.

“The nonresidential window and glazing market tends to lag contract awards by roughly one year. Overall in the East North Central, contract awards increased by 4 percent from 2004 to 2005. A decline of 3 percent is expected for 2006, followed by a slight increase and then further decline anticipated through 2009.”

In the West North Central region, which consists of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas, the market has slowed, according to the AAMA/WDMA report.

“The nonresidential window and glazing market tends to lag contract awards by roughly one year,” says the report. “The West North Central experienced a slight 1-percent growth in 2005 for contract awards. There will be continued growth through 2007, bringing the total to 84 million square feet.” 

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