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Construction strong in Utah

First-quarter figures nearly reached the $1 billion mark

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Conventional wisdom says that with the completion of the massive I-15 reconstruction project, rising unemployment, a weakened local technology sector and murmuring of national and even global recession, Utah's construction industry is heading for a fall.

But you couldn't tell it from first-quarter figures, which showed construction permits nearly reached the landmark $1 billion level.

Commercial and residential construction, the backbone of Utah's economy in recent years, continued to set records in the first quarter, according to the "Utah Construction Report" released this week by the University of Utah Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Construction valuation in the first three months of 2001 reached a record high of $975.2 million, up $81 million over the same period last year, which also was a record at the time.

"The strength of the construction industry is broad-based, with the residential, nonresidential and additions-alterations-repairs sectors all sailing along at record or near-record levels," bureau analysts James A. Wood and Diane S. Gillam wrote in the quarterly report.

Particularly impressive was residential construction, up 14.2 percent over the first quarter of 2000 to $535 million.

Permits for nonresidential construction didn't set records, but neither did they plummet as some industry watchers had expected. Valuations were up 1.6 percent to $309 million, the second highest first quarter ever.

The category of additions, alterations and repairs totaled $130.1 million, which was also a record.

The impressive gains in residential construction were not spread evenly across the state, however. Of Utah's 29 counties, 24 of them logged declines during the first quarter, including Weber, Tooele and Washington, which had previously shown strong growth. Of the rural counties, only Kane showed an increase, up 15 percent.

But the Wasatch Front counties of Davis, Salt Lake and Utah more than made up the difference, as Davis logged a 36.9 percent increase to 557 units, and Utah County saw a 26.2 percent jump to 1,088 units, both largely due to single-family home construction.

Conversely, Salt Lake County's 42.9 percent increase to 1,415 units was primarily due to 587 new units of multifamily construction, compared to 122 a year earlier.

E-MAIL: max@desnews.com