LEXINGTON, Mass. - New construction starts in November were up one percent from October, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $549 billion according to McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge.

Improved contracting was reported for nonresidential building and public works, outweighing a slight loss of momentum for residential building. During the first eleven months of 2003, total construction activity was up 3 percent compared to a year ago.

November's data lifted the Dodge Index to 165 (1996 figures represent the base line figure of 100), up from October's 163 and matching the year's high achieved in June. The volume of new construction starts began slowly in 2003, with the Dodge Index averaging 149 during the first five months of the year.

"The construction industry has picked up the pace in recent months," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge. "For most of 2003, single-family housing has been the industry mainstay, and there are now signs of improvement being shown by other sectors after a weak start to the year.

"Moving into 2004, the continued improvement by such sectors as commercial building and transportation public works would help offset the modest retreat expected for single-family housing."

Nonresidential building

Nonresidential building in November increased 1 percent to an annual rate of $149 billion. The commercial structure types were generally stronger, including a 98 percent surge for hotels. Warehouses advanced 7 percent, while both offices and stores registered 3 percent gains.

The November nonresidential total also was helped by a 14 percent increase for school construction. Transportation terminal work grew 61 percent. On the negative side, November declines were registered by health care facilities, down 2 percent; courthouses and detention facilities, down 3 percent; and amusement-related projects, down 39 percent.

An especially large, 70 percent decline was posted by the manufacturing plant category in November, compared to an October that included the start of a $600 million conversion of a semiconductor plant.

Nonbuilding construction, at $105 billion annual rate, grew 11 percent in November.

Residential building in November retreated 1 percent to an annual rate of $295 billion, reflecting a 2 percent decline for single-family housing and a 1 percent gain for multifamily housing.

Housing construction

While the direction for single-family housing was slightly negative, the level of activity continued to be very high, and through the first eleven months of 2003, single-family housing was up 12 percent compared to the previous year.