New construction up in county

January 13, 2017 GMT

Allen County added more than $409.4 million in new commercial and residential construction in 2016, according to a year-end report by the county’s building department.

The figure represents a $94.5 million, an increase of about 35 percent over 2015′s $314.9 million.

Nonetheless, the news for the area construction industry was not all good, as the dollar value for overall construction dipped about 20 percent, from $871.4 million in 2015 to $690.4 million last year.

Dollar figures for overall construction include residential and commercial remodeling, repair and roofing and other categories as well as new buildings.

But area building-industry leaders Thursday said the 2016 numbers on the whole indicate a strong economic climate they expect to continue.

“As far as commercial construction, the commercial construction industry is strong and growing, and our members are very confident over the next two or three years because of the volume going on,” said Lori Harvey, executive director of the Building Contractors Association of Northeast Indiana in Fort Wayne.

“I just hear a lot of positive comments from the contractors that I deal with.”

Jessica Scheurich of Keller Development, Fort Wayne, who was recently elected the 2017 president of the Home Builders Association of Fort Wayne, also had a positive outlook.

“We’ve had a very good year,” she said. “Of course there’s always the unknown of a new presidential (administration) this year, but we’re still very hopeful.”

Increases in the dollar value of new commercial construction were led by those in the unincorporated areas of Allen County, where the number more than tripled from 2015 – from $35.2 million in 2015 to $107.2 million in 2016.

However, that number came about with only two more building permits issued in 2016 than in the previous year, so it’s likely it was the result of big spending on a few large jobs, said John Caywood, Allen County Building Department commissioner.

Caywood said the higher figure was likely associated with the General Motors plant addition and Stonebridge Business Park development in Lafayette Township as well as the addition of a cancer center to the Parkview Regional Medical Center in Perry Township.

Unincorporated Allen County also led in the dollar value increase of new residential construction, going from $188.76 million in 2015 to $213.8 million in 2016.

“As far as the county is concerned, we’re becoming known as build-friendly and an easy-to-work-with area in the permitting process,” Caywood said.

The region is developing a reputation for being a good place to locate or relocate a business, he said.

“The building (activity) Allen County is seeing is just heads above” that in surrounding counties, Caywood said.

The building department issued 8,704 building permits last year, compared with 8,173 in 2015. The majority, 7,282, were for residential projects.

Scheurich said the increase in new residential construction stems in part from continuing declines in the number of existing homes for sale.

“I don’t foresee that changing in the existing year,” she said.

Land for new homes is becoming more costly, she noted, but it is still generally available in the Fort Wayne area. However, if interest rates on home mortgages continue to creep upward, that may crimp demand for housing overall, she added.

Scheurich attributed the dip in overall construction numbers to a decline in remodeling. But on the commercial side, that appears to have remained strong, in part because of school updating and maintenance, Harvey said.

Indeed, commercial building has been so strong that some contractors have been able “to pick and choose what they want to bid on,” Harvey said.

“That’s a luxury,” she said.