In many areas, contractors are struggling to find qualified workers while others contend with shrinking public budgets for infrastructure. Construction employment conditions vary by metro areas between September 2015 and September 2016, according to analysis of federal employment data by the Associated General Contractors of America.

“Overall, the employment picture for construction workers is positive—the number of metro areas adding construction jobs in the past year was more than triple the number that lost jobs,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “But contractors in many of the metros with stagnant or shrinking headcounts might have hired more workers if there were enough with construction skills. Meanwhile, public projects are dwindling in many areas because of sluggish federal and state spending.”

Construction employment increased in 226, or 63 percent, of 358 metro areas in the past year, held steady in 58 areas, and declined in 74 areas, the economist noted. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo. added the most construction jobs (13,400 jobs, 14 percent), followed by Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla. (12,500 jobs, 20 percent); Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. (9,600 jobs, 10 percent); Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, Calif. (9,200 jobs, 10 percent); and Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, Calif. (8,500 jobs, 16 percent). The largest percentage gains occurred in Boise City, Idaho (24 percent, 4,500 jobs); El Centro, Calif. (21 percent, 600 jobs); Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford and Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade.

The largest job losses from September 2015 to September 2016 were in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif. (-2,600 jobs, -2 percent), followed by New Orleans-Metairie, La. (-2,300 jobs, -7 percent) and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas (-1,900 jobs, -1 percent). The largest percentage declines for the past year were in Bloomington, Ill. (-13 percent, -400 jobs); Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville, Ala. (-11 percent, -100 jobs); and Decatur, Ill. (-11 percent, -400 jobs).

Association officials said the spotty construction employment gains, along with recent data on job openings in the sector, make it clear that firms in many locations are having a hard time finding enough workers to hire. They urged Congress to complete action this month on reforming and boosting funding for career and technical education that would enable more young people to acquire the skills for jobs in construction and other hard-to-fill occupations, and to pass a water resources development bill.

“Many firms would hire more workers if enough qualified applicants were available,” adds Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s CEO, who urged the Senate to act quickly on a House-passed measure to reform and boost funding for career and technical education programs.