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Inside the census: No population growth = no construction growth

By Joe Lanane

Tuesday’s numerical overload probably did not mean a lot to most construction veterans, but the 2010 U.S. Census figures reveal a lot about the industry’s future.

Population growth nationally declined from 13.2 percent last decade to 9.2 percent in 2010 and from 9.6 percent to 6 percent in Wisconsin.

“Overall, slower population growth means slower demand for construction,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. “Unless we have stronger growth than predicted, it will be a subdued decade for construction.”

Simonson said population shifts help drive housing, school and retail construction markets and, to a lesser extent, work on medical, recreational and wastewater service buildings.

While Wisconsin ranks above the Midwest’s 3.9 percent growth, he said the state still ranks 26th nationally in population growth.

“I think you can be glad to not be in one of those other states, but clearly Wisconsin is still – if not a slow-growing state – in a slower growing state than national growth rate overall,” he said.

The more interesting information is yet to come, with the U.S. Census yet to release information broken down by demographics and metropolitan regions. It is that information, Simonson said, that will reveal the most about the industry’s future in Wisconsin.

For example, he said contractors specializing in building primary schools may want to reprioritize if their area has seen a significant decrease in children being born or moving to the region.

“It depends how big you’re aiming,” he said, “and what your niche is.”

Joe Lanane is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. His desk is currently filled with printouts of useless census data.

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