Economic development officials often joke that their favorite bird is the crane. Not the one with wings, mind you, but the kind you see on big construction sites.
So far in 2012, developers have put a fair number of cranes into the airspace above Syracuse. The city is seeing a big jump in the value of construction permits applied for.
Through May, $146,271,066 worth of permits have gone on the Division of Code Enforcement's books. That's more than full year totals for both 2009 ($136,534,880) and 2010 ($142,229,141). It is also well out-pacing 2011's numbers, when only about $30 million worth of construction had been applied for through May. Last year ended up finishing at $245,382,179.
That has people in city hall feeling positive about the city's economic outlook.
“It certainly puts a smile on our face,” says Ben Walsh, the city's Deputy Director of Neighborhood and Business Development. “But we’re aware of the broader conditions – financial and economic conditions – so we’re going to keep these numbers in perspective.”
Walsh credits the recent recession with the drop in construction activity during 2009 and 2010.
Several large projects in the city have broken ground this year, including a new hotel in downtown's Armory Square section and the Pike Block residential project a few blocks away. Upstate University Hospital is also building a large biotech research complex.
“It's our hope that not only will these projects move forward, but every project that is finished is a positive for the community and hopefully will encourage future development and investment,” Walsh says.
Along with its increase in construction projects, Syracuse is seeing an uptick in construction jobs, an industry that has been struggling in recent years.
In June, construction jobs rose 2 percent in Syracuse from the same month the year before, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). It's the first time Syracuse has seen a year-over-year increase since November 2011.
Syracuse did better than the New York state average, which saw a 3 percent drop in June, but not as well as some other upstate cities. Albany's construction employment rose 9 percent and Buffalo was up 12 percent. Rochester matched Syracuse with a 2 percent increase in the sector.
“Certainly how the construction industry is doing is a pretty good bellwether for how the economy is doing,” says Mike Elmendorf, president of AGC of New York State.
Elmendorf says an increase in construction activity and jobs is a positive sign for the economy, but half-a-year's worth of data is not enough to declare a trend.