The cranes have returned to Denver, and neither has the winged sandhill variety.

According to the latest Crane Index Report from the construction industry consulting firm Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB), 22 tower cranes were in use on various construction sites in downtown Denver in February.

This is a jump of 22% compared to the 18 cranes that RLB counted in its last semi-annual survey in August. A year ago, in the first fiscal quarter of 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic had a full impact on the economy and the construction industry, there were 25 tower cranes in central Denver.

“RLB has found that the number of cranes we operate is a very readily identifiable indicator of the health of the industry,” said Peter Knowles, executive vice president of the Denver-based company.

The swift return of tower cranes to the Denver skyline shows Knowles that the construction industry has certainly suffered some bumps and bruises during the pandemic – some were caused by delayed projects, others by supply chain disruptions – but the economy hasn’t stepped backwards dramatically like after the 2008 financial crisis.

“We thought we were going to go through another depression like we saw last time when the workload in the market shrank dramatically,” said Knowles. “I think we all realized that this wasn’t self-replicating. I think we are no longer expecting the construction industry to shrink, but rather growth. “

The RLB crane index includes 14 cities in the US and Canada. In the most recent poll, only Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Francisco saw numbers drop significant percentages.

Courtesy of rider Levett Bucknall

The North American Crane Index for the first quarter of 2021 shows that Denver has more active tower cranes than Chicago, Boston and New York.

Half of Denver’s tower cranes are used in residential construction, according to RLB research, while four are on commercial real estate and three are on mixed-use project sites. A crane is used on the Interstate 70 expansion project.

“The improvements to major local highways are a huge stimulus for more development in the Denver area,” RLB researchers wrote in the report.

The company is also tracking construction costs in these 14 North American markets and found that Denver numbers were largely unchanged during the pandemic, up around 1.3% year over year in January.

Knowles predicts a steeper increase and a labor shortage allows contractors to make choices on projects. The Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Improvement Plan could help drive inflation in project construction costs by increasing the need for materials and labor.

“I think it’s fair to say that by the middle of this year we will certainly feel like we did before COVID. Across the industry, we are going to come under pressure again because of the volume of work we are dealing with, ”said Knowles.

Not that it’s a bad thing.

“It’s good to be busy,” he said.