Apr 28, 2022 - Business

Despite inflation, Chicago is still building

Crane
The silhouette of a construction crane is seen hauling a slab of concrete on a construction site in 2016. Photo: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg/Getty Images

One fascinating way to eyeball economic growth in Chicago is to look up and count construction cranes.

Why it matters: Inflation is affecting Chicago's construction industry, but a North American biannual survey says the city is still building.

Context: Construction jobs dried up during the pandemic, even though the mayor considered those jobs essential during the lockdown. But in the first quarter of 2022, construction was returning, albeit slowly.

The latest: The new RLB Crane Index, which tracks operating tower cranes in major cities across the U.S. and Canada, reports Chicago has three more cranes in operation than in the previous survey. In total, there are 10 cranes working.

  • There is more office and residential development in Fulton Market but little new development in the Loop.
  • On the North Side, a medical research lab — the first building of the massive Lincoln Yards development — has broken ground.
  • The suburbs continue to see construction on large warehouse facilities.

Yes, but: Construction costs are up 1.58% over the previous quarter due to inflation.

What they're saying: "The [war in Ukraine] is seriously affecting transportation fuel costs and heavy civil projects needing major machinery," RLB's Chris Harris wrote in the latest quarterly cost report.

  • "Stainless steel and similar materials requiring nickel will be affected by the spike in cost, and new COVID and Chinese port closures will slow material delivery."

Zoom out: The survey reports a 4.5% increase in cranes nationally.

  • Chicago joins Denver, New York and Toronto with more cranes.
  • Boston, Portland and D.C. have seen fewer.
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