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BURBANK, CA-The latest monthly figures on statewide construction “could be an early indicator that the nonresidential (commercial) sector may be turning around,” according to a report issued Monday by the Burbank-based Construction Industry Research Board (CIRB), a nonprofit trade group.

Although the board’s monthly survey of statewide commercial, residential public works construction sectors showed that overall statewide construction volume in April totaled $5.9 billion, up 10.1% from the previous month and up 8.3% from April 2002, the commercial portion of the overall total is still lagging below the peaks it reached several years ago. Nonetheless, total construction volume for private commercial building in April was up to more than $1.1 billion, an increase of 9.8% from March. The month-to-month increase was what prompted the CIRB to say that the commercial sector may begetting ready to turn around.

Normally the month of April signifies the beginning of the peak construction months for general contractors, says Ben Bartolotto, CIRB director. However, Bartolotto says that’s not a sure thing this year because of the uncertainties revolving around the state budget deficit problems, which directly affect heavy construction as well as the economy in general.

The year-to-date figures for the first four months of 2003 continue to show the sharp difference between commercial and residential construction, Bartolotto notes. Private commercial building activity totals slightly more than $4.2 billion, down 5.4% compared with the first four months of last year, while residential building totals about $12.2 billion to date, up 24% for the year.

The CIRB reports that public works construction, including schools and government buildings, totals more than $3.1 billion for the first four months of the year, up 65.2% compared with last year, but Bartolotto says the public works figures can be misleading as a barometer of the economy because they often involve huge projects that may take 18 to 24 months to complete, but their entire cost is counted in the month the work starts. Private commercial and residential construction figures are a more accurate reflection of how the economy is affecting the construction industry, he says.

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