ArchitecturaI Billings Index Hits 3-Year Low; Data Center Demand “Off the Charts”

Ken Simonson
April 30, 2024|


Total construction starts dipped 1 percent in March from February at a seasonally adjusted annual rate but rose 13 percent year-to-date in the first quarter of 2024 compared to Q1 2023, Dodge Construction Network reported on April 25.

Nonbuilding starts increased 7 percent for the month and 16 percent year-to-date, residential building starts rose 1 percent and 24 percent , respectively, while nonresidential building starts slid 9 percent for the month but edged up 2 percent year-to-date.

The Architecture Billings Index fell from 49.5 in February to 43.6 in March, seasonally adjusted, the lowest reading since December 2020 and the 14th-straight reading below the breakeven 50 mark, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported on April 24. AIA calls the index “a leading economic indicator that leads nonresidential construction activity by approximately 9-12 months.” The ABI is derived from the share of responding architecture firms that report a gain in billings compared to the previous month less the share reporting a decline in billings, presented on a 0-to-100 scale. Thus, any score below 50 means more firms reported decreased billings than increased billings. Readings for practice specialties (based on three-month averages) varied: institutional, 49.9 (vs. 49.4 in February); mixed practice, 48.3 (vs. 47.1); residential (mainly multifamily), 44.2 (vs. 43.9); and commercial/industrial, 42.9 (vs. 43.9). An index for new design contracts declined to 50.0 from 51.1 in February.

“Demand for new [data center] construction is off the charts,” Data Center Frontier reported on April 26. “Projections shared by analysts at Data Center World ranged from 22 gigawatts (GWs) to 35 GWs of data center construction in the pipeline. That disconnect is forcing new thinking on data center site selection. ‘We used to say “bring the power to the data centers,”‘ said Ed Socia, insight director for North America at datacenterHawk, a research firm that tracks data center activity. ‘Now we say “bring the data center to the power.”‘ Socia says developments are shifting to markets with power availability like Charlotte, Austin, San Antonio and Reno.

At the end of Q1, “there are 6,065 [hotel] projects with 702,990 rooms in the pipeline,” lodging data firm Lodging Econometrics reported on April 24. “This new all-time high represents a 9 percent year-over-year increase in projects and a 7 percent y/y increase in rooms compared to last year. [All] stages of the pipeline…saw y/y growth in Q1. Presently, there [is] a 9 percent increase in projects and a 1 percent increase in rooms y/y [under construction]. Projects slated to start construction in the next 12 months [posted] a 10 percent rise in projects and an 8 percent increase in rooms y/y. Notably, both projects and room counts in the early planning stage increased by 9 percent y/y.”

“Half of payroll workers in construction earn more than $58,500 [the median annual wage] and the top 25 percent make at least $79,450, according to the latest May 2023 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) and analysis by the National Association of Home Builders,” NAHB reported on April 18. “In comparison, the U.S. median wage is $48,060, while the top quartile (top 25 percent) makes at least $76,980….Among construction trades, elevator installers and repairers top the median wages list [at] $103,340 a year, and the top 25 percent make at least $129,090. First-line supervisors of construction trades are next on the list; their median wages are $76,960, with the top 25 percent…earning more than $97,500. In general, construction trades that require more years of formal education, specialized training or licensing tend to offer higher annual wages. Median wages [and top 25 percent of wages] of construction and building inspectors are $65,790 and [$88,800, respectively]. Half of plumbers in construction earn over $61,380, with the top quartile making over $80,300. Electricians’ wages are similarly high. Carpenters are one of the most prevalent construction crafts in the industry. The trade requires less formal education. Nevertheless, the median wages of carpenters working in construction [$57,300] exceed the national median. [The] highest paid 25 percent bring in at least $73,800.”

Highway contractors are invited to complete AGC’s annual highway work zone safety survey by May 10. Responses will be kept confidential. AGC will use the information from this survey as the main focus of a media and public education campaign we will launch the week before Memorial Day and the traditional start of the summer driving season. Our goal is to educate and encourage drivers to operate more safely in highway work zones.

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Ken Simonson is chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.


About the Author: Ken Simonson

Ken Simonson
Ken Simonson is Chief Economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.

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