The city that gave the U.S. its first skyscraper is back on track to build some more.

Chicago Dusk
The Chicago metropolitan area has gained the third-most construction jobs over the past year—9,200 jobs.

The Chicago metro area has seen a big boost in construction over the past year, namely in the institutional sector. In 2014, through October, the Chicago-Naperville-Joliet area amassed $5.6 billion worth of nonresidential construction starts, up 27 percent from that span last year, according to Dodge Data & Analytics.

The area’s construction starts for institutional buildings—which include education, dorms, healthcare, recreational, public administrative, religious and other such buildings—came to $3 billion in the first 10 months of 2014, a 20-percent increase from the same period a year earlier.

Dan Shields, director of sales at Chicago-area-based Alliance Glazing Technologies, says the higher education construction sector has been booming in the area and is a large market for his company. Among a handful of other projects, Alliance is finishing up a large custom glazing job at the University of Chicago’s Lab Schools.

Andy Hill of Glass Solutions Inc., also based out of the Chicago area, has taken on a lot of work in the healthcare sector, which he says is driven by the “constant competition” between hospitals and the merging of different healthcare facilities. Glass Solutions’ recent work in that sector includes a large façade job at Skokie Hospital.

Based on bidding activity, Shields says the multi-family sector is blossoming, resulting in a lot of window wall work. While his company does fewer large window wall projects and more unitized, all-curtainwall and structural glass walls work, the “tower residential” projects, as he refers to them, typically offer more than just window wall work due to their multi-purpose nature.

“Those building usually have stores and businesses on the first couple floors, which utilize large applications of glass,” he says. “So that’s typically where we reside in (that market), from a competitive standpoint.”

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Glass Solutions Inc. recently completed a job at Skokie Hospital. The institutional construction sector, which includes healthcare facilities, has been booming in Chicago of late.

Hill adds that the “window wall market is extremely heavy,” though Glass Solutions does most of its work outside of that sector, as well.

Both Alliance and Glass Solutions are also seeing a lot of remedial and renovation work on buildings such as hotels, where the entire face of the building is being ripped off and replaced with a new façade, and retrofit projects are aplenty throughout the area.

Overall, the Chicago building industry appears to be in a positive place. And the increase in construction has not been lost on the job market.

“Chicago really is on fire right now as evidenced by the fact that both the glaziers and ironworkers union halls are empty,” says Lyle Hill, managing director at Keytech North America.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill. metropolitan area has gained the third-most construction jobs over the past year—9,200 jobs for a 7-percent increase.

Shields says the backlog of construction in the area continues to grow as more and more projects that have been on hold since the recession or stretched out are back in motion. He adds that because the industry is becoming so busy, owners that want quality projects are needing to sometimes wait longer than they originally planned, which Shields thinks will continue to push more work into the future.

“After seeing all the activity the last couple years, if anything, it’s still picking up,” he says. “So I’m very optimistic for the future.”