Raleigh, N.C.-based FMI recently released its Non-Residential Construction Index (NRCI) report. For the first quarter 2010, the NRCI measures 48.4, a slightly positive move from the fourth quarter 2009 reading of 47.7. The improvement may be attributed to the panelists trust in a continuing upswing in the economy.

While health care construction is the only construction market showing relative strength this year, most panelists predict improvements for next year, with the exception of the lodging and office markets. Fifty-two percent still expect reductions in staff for 2010, compared with the 64% that were downsizing this time last year; however, those cuts will be less drastic with most being less than 5% of staff. Even though reductions still loom, some construction executives are making strategic hires to prepare for certain market improvement.

Overall, FMI thinks there are signs of recovery in the responses to this quarter's survey, but that recovery could be very slow, especially if financial institutions continue to keep a tight rein on loans and owners are reluctant to build once their markets improve.