ANDOVER, Mass. Jim Loos watches as workers pound through fresh concrete with compressed-air hammer drills and then spray insulation on the exposed steel girders.
It’s one of the few new construction projects at this sprawling, 350,000-square-foot biotech complex along Route 128, on the Weston and Waltham line.
Before the economic donwnturn, Loos says, new construction made up about 50 percent of business for his company, A&M Roofing Services in Andover. For both 2008 and this year so far, that share has fallen to 20 percent.
“A lot of our business has been re-roofing, because there really isn’t anything else out there,” Loos says.
There are mixed signs of recovery in the construction industry. On one hand, residential housing starts and building permits rose in August, to their highest levels in nine months, according to Lexington-based forecasting firm IHS Global Insight. On the other hand, commercial construction across the country will likely fall by almost 28 percent this year.
The decline is evident in Massachusetts, where construction employment is down 17 percent from a year ago.
Loos says the roofing industry is probably faring better than most other construction sectors, because his company can go after old projects instead of relying wholly on new ones.
Nevertheless, A&M laid off around 25 people in February for about two months, which Loos said is a long time for the roofing business.
“It says something about the economy when they all were available to come back,” he says.
In recent months, A&M has hired about a dozen new people, and they have some new projects lined up that Loos believes can carry them through the next six months.
“We’re hoping that the last few months of the year will help us turn the corner for a profitable year.”
But despite word from some Obama administration economic advisers that the economy is turning a corner, Loos says he is not letting is guard down yet.
“I don’t think I can be that optimistic. I have to be conservative in my outlook. I still think it’s going to be difficult,” Loos says.
One key indicator for the roofing industry and other construction sectors, he says, is how architecture firms are faring. Loos says a few have work, but he has not seen a turnaround.
WBUR’s Kathleen McNerney compiled this report.