Bridgeport-Stamford construction hiring drops as Hartford market builds

Construction work is still happening in Fairfield County, but not generating much hiring.

Despite a pressing need for repair work on Hurricane Sandy devastated neighborhoods, the Bridgeport-Stamford metro region lost 500 construction jobs in January compared to a year ago, leaving the region badly trailing other areas of the country where construction is recovering.

Bridgeport-Stamford’s market, which includes Danbury, ranked 264 out of 339 metro regions, according to an Association of General Contractors of America review. The monthly report on the industry found 145 markets added jobs, 53 were stagnant and 141 lost them.

“Not only are a slight plurality of metro areas adding construction jobs, but those areas appear to be adding jobs at a faster rate than places where construction employment continues to decline,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Considering the already-released national construction employment figures for February, we are likely to see more metro areas adding jobs in the next report.”

Fairfield County, where 10,300 are employed in construction, wasn’t the worst market in the state, however, New Haven was. The metro region that’s home to Yale and several high profile bio-tech companies that have received state incentives, was 277th in the nation as it too lost 500 jobs. The rankings are based on the increase or decrease from a year ago. New Haven County had 7,800 construction workers in January.

Waterbury, which lost 100 jobs, was tied with Bridgeport at 264.

Hartford proved that it wasn’t winter that stopped hiring in the state. The Capitol Region ranked 46th in the nation and added 1,100 jobs in January and 17,000 people worked in the trades in January.

Besides Hartford, Fairfield County was ranked lower than Lancaster, Pa., Norwich and New London, Reno, Nevada, and Haverhill and North Andover, Mass, which ranked 4th in the nation. New York City, which didn’t gain or lose jobs also outranked Connecticut’s Gold Coast.

The best market for construction workers was in Pascagoula, Miss, followed by Brownsville, Texas. Texas saw a particularly robust market with Dallas and Houston areas both gaining thousands of workers.

While expectations are that demand for construction workers will come back, there is growing concern that areas that are still losing workers will have trouble finding them to fill that demand. Connecticut construction company owners have expressed similar concerns in recent months.

Association officials noted that after years of declining construction employment, many former construction workers have left for other industries or retired. They added that the industry’s dire conditions have deterred many graduates from pursuing careers in construction and as a result, the industry is likely to face a shortage of available skilled workers in some parts of the country if the industry continues to add jobs.

“Between the challenges of attracting new recruits and retaining out-of-work ones, there aren’t that many skilled workers waiting for a call-back in many parts of the country,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “If the industry continues to add jobs, it won’t be long before contractors in some parts of the country are scrambling to find enough skilled workers to meet demand.”

Rob Varnon