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On Friday, the Commerce Dept. released its first estimate on gross domestic product for the first quarter on 2018. The 2.3% increase was a pleasant surprise, coming on the heels of an upward final revision about the US for the 4th quarter to 2.9%. Recent history has shown weaker first quarters, especially following strong year-end finishes. The first quarter GDP gains came from consumer and business spending growth, although inflation had more of an influence in the growth than in many years. The more troubling data from the estimate was the fact that both consumer and business spending was beginning to trend lower. It remains to be seen whether the additional data gathered for the 2nd and final estimates reinforces that slowing trend in the next two months.

The General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania (GCAP) has published a transcript of its interviews with Gov. Wolf and all three leading GOP candidates for governor. GCAP asked each of the four about their proposed policies that will affect construction. Some of them sort of answered. Read the transcript here.

Friday’s big news may have been the unexpected slowdown in hiring in the U.S. job market but there was some project news of note in Pittsburgh. The PBX reported that J.C. Orr was the low general (at $45.6 million) on the $73.5 million new Altoona High School. That’s a good sign for the public market, at least in terms of the impact of rising prices on bids. News from distributors and specialty contractors suggests that more budgets may prove to be too low in the coming months. The bids on the $75 million Peters Township High School will be worth noting in that regard.

In the private sector, Burchick Construction was selected to build the $5 million Heights of Thorn Hill office building for Elmhurst Group. Champion Construction started construction on the 90,000 square foot Southpointe Fieldhouse. Volpatt Construction was awarded a contract for $3.5 million in renovations to Wean Hall/Doherty Hall classroom renovations at Carnegie Mellon. CMU also short-listed Mascaro and Mosites to determine the CM for the $45 million Health and Fitness Center project. DGA Construction has started work on the Refinery Condos, a 30-unit adaptive re-use of the former plant/warehouse at 2545 Penn Avenue that Joe Hardy is redeveloping. And the revised $15 million St. Clair Hospital central plant project has gone out to bid to PJ Dick, Landau, Mascaro, Massaro, MBM, Mosites, and Volpatt.

Bureau of Labor Statistics released information on February’s producer price index (PPI), which showed construction outpacing the overall inflation rate by a considerable amount. Year-over-year (y/y) the PPI for all finished products was up 2.8%. For construction the PPI increase for final demand rose 3.5%.

The AGC’s Ken Simonson noted spikes (note: no declines) in a number of categories. “Materials important to construction that had notable one- or 12-month price changes include diesel fuel, down 2.0% in February but up 38% y/y; lumber and plywood, up 4.4% for the month and 13% y/y; aluminum mill shapes, 2.9% and 12%, respectively; copper and brass mill shapes, -0.9% and 10%; gypsum products, 7.2% and 8.0%; and steel mill products, 2.3% and 4.8%. Among services important to construction, the PPI for truck transportation of freight rose 0.6% for the month and 5.6% y/y.”

In local construction news, CMU’s $45 million Health & Wellness Center – a renovation of Skibo Hall – has gone out for RFP to Jendoco, Mascaro, Mosites, PJ Dick, and Rycon. Construction of a temporary helipad is getting underway as the first phase of the $21 million emergency department renovation. MBM Contracting is the project’s CM. Stantec is the architect. And nearly 20 years of trying, word is that the $40 million Shannon Transit Village is moving forward. The 152-unit apartment with ground floor retail and a 375-car garage is being developed by Jim Aiello (JRA Development) and built by Mascaro Construction. A schedule for construction is not set, however.

This morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report on February’s job creation blew the doors off the forecast. Employers created 313,000 jobs in February, at least 100,000 more than expected. It’s a reflection of small business confidence in the economy and a reaction to the lower business taxes. Here in Pittsburgh, construction keeps getting a boost from the rapid growth in tech jobs.

Rycon Construction was awarded the $7.9 million fit-out for Argo AI, one of Uber’s competitors in the autonomous vehicle game, which is going into 3 Crossings. Dick Building Co. got a contract for about $1 million in renovations for a company called Robotany at the M. Berger Industrial Park in South Side. Robotany grows greens hydroponically and is expanding to put robotics to work planting, feeding and harvesting. Turner is reported to have the $120 million Pitt/UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center, the conversion of the former Ford Building in Shadyside.

In more conventional construction news, Franjo Construction was awarded the $7 million A & L Motors BMW dealership in Monroeville. A permit was issued in McCandless to A. Martini & Co. for a $32 million McCandless Senior Living, being developed by CA Ventures at McCandless Crossing. Burns & Scalo Real Estate has its 150,000 sq. ft. , $34 million Riviera Office Building out to subcontractors for bid. And the $700 million UPMC Heart and Transplant Hospital at Presbyterian is going out for CM proposals (along with the UPMC Hillman Cancer Hospital) to four teams: Clark Construction/Dick Building Co., Massaro/AECOM, PJ Dick/Whiting Turner and Rycon/Skanska.

In the Spring edition of DevelopingPittsburgh, there was an error in the feature article, p. 14. The quote from Mike Coonley should read, “When we have the opportunity we will still put our hat in the ring. We don’t have a lot of available buildings or but we do have lots of sites.” Armstrong County EDC has 20- and 12-acre pads along with several other smaller lots at the 925-acre Northpointe business park. West Hills Industrial Park, at the intersection of SR28 and 422, has 185 acres with multiple sites available.