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Construction employment continues to rise in county

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San Diego County construction employment rose in July, continuing the positive trend from the year's first half, according to the latest numbers released Aug.17 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the third consecutive month, construction employment increased in the San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos metro area last month to 58,400 jobs, 800 more than June and 2,200 more than July 2011.

Jody James Watkins, president and CEO of Watkins Landmark Construction, said June was busy for his company. He said he feels business is "better than it was a year ago," and believes tenant improvement will be the driving sector for construction jobs.

"You can buy an existing building for cheaper than if you build a new one," Watkins said, adding that he doesn't see new construction in the commercial market until 2014 because there is still plenty of empty office space that needs to fill up.

There has been just one instance so far this year where construction employment did not grow from one month to the next, which was from March to April when employment dipped by 100 jobs.

July's construction employment is also the highest it's been since October 2009, which also posted 58,400 jobs.

Public sector jobs is where most of the hiring is taking place, specifically with school construction due to bonds passed by voters in the last several years.

Other large ongoing construction projects where hiring for subcontractors is taking place includes at Lindbergh Field on The Green Build terminal 2 expansion project, and the $185 million new Central Library.

There is close to $1 billion in highway and public transportation projects under construction across the San Diego region, and another $1 billion in projects scheduled to come online in the next 18 months.

However the summer months are traditionally when construction picks up. Last year, July and August had the highest construction employment.

Watkins added that he feels construction will slow down in the coming months because developers and building owners want to see how the November election turns out.

"They want to know what parameters their projects are going to be under," Watkins said, giving examples of tax breaks and changes in developer laws and permitting.

In addition, federal spending on military projects is expected to decrease in the coming months and years.

Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest, which awards capital improvement projects for the Navy and Marine Corps on the West Coast, is expected to shell out $857 million for construction projects in the current fiscal year and $492 million in fiscal year 2013.

Looking at the last 10 years, January 2012 had the lowest construction employment with 52,900 jobs; June 2006 saw the highest employment with 95,100 jobs in the San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos metro area.

Average construction employment in 2011 was 55,200 jobs, the lowest in the last 10 years locally. The highest average was in 2006 with 92,700 construction jobs. Ten years ago, construction employment was averaging 76,400 jobs.

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