Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Construction is picking up

Local mayors were pleased when The Leader contacted them last weekend about encouraging signs that an economic upswing is finally on the horizon as evidenced by increased home construction here, a sure sign of better times to come.

Despite the economic downturn, home construction in the area is on the rebound, which is good news indeed. Austin and Ward are leading the way with strong numbers. Combined, they have built $9.6 million worth of new homes during the first six months of 2009. Austin alone reported $5 million in new construction, well ahead of Cabot’s $4.4 million, which also trails Ward’s $4.6 million.

After a steady slide in home construction for the last couple of years in Cabot — despite its image as a boomtown — builders are back on the job. They’ve put up 45 new homes in the last three months, an increase over the first six months, which saw only 41 new housing starts.

“That’s the best three months in about 24 months,” Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams told The Leader. “That’s a huge indicator.

What excites me is the number of starts.”

It’s been pretty rough not only in Cabot but also in Jacksonville, but it, too, is showing signs of a recovery.

For the same first six months of this year, Jacksonville was trailing with $4 million, but that’s an improvement over the $3.2 million that it showed for the second six months in 2008. For the first six months of last year, Jacksonville built $5.8 million worth of new homes, so the drop has been remarkable, but not as steep as in Cabot, which has been growing at a furious pace until the current downturn.

Cabot has seen home construction drop from $6.9 million in the first six months in 2008 to $5.2 million in the last six months of 2008. The figures become grimmer as builders put up only $4.4 million in new homes during the first half of 2009. But there could be an uptick this fall, justifying Williams’ optimism.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher knows things could be worse. “We’re better off than the national scene,” he said.

The mayors who have the most to smile about are Bernie Chamberlain of Austin and Art Brooke of Ward, where construction has hardly slowed. People like the small-town atmosphere and neighbors looking out for each other.

“We’re getting a lot of residential permits out,” Chamberlain said. Most new residents are from Little Rock Air Force Base, she explained.

Construction could increase further this fall in Austin, matching $10 million in construction in 2008. Ward could reach that level as well before the year is over.

The recession seems to be ending early in Austin and Ward. The rest of the area is ready to join them.