If first-quarter statistics are equaled in the next three, construction in Madison County is on track to exceed last year.

The first quarter is typically the slowest for builders, and that bodes well for the rest of the year, builders and suppliers say.

Last year, 504 construction permits were issued across Madison County, a decline of 14.4 percent from 2006.

In the first quarter of 2008, 140 were issued. If the following three quarters are as busy, the yearly total could be 560, an 11.1 percent increase.

The uptick is attributed to low interest rates and building material costs, as well as a strong local economy.

“I’ve built more in the last three months than I did all last year,” said Bob Hager, who may be the county’s largest residential builder.

Builder Robert Locker said, “The market is still good for rental property, condominiums and single-family homes under $150,000.”

Lack of demand has pushed down the price of lumber and many other building materials except copper, said Hager, who also runs a building supply, lumber and cabinet business.

Because he also owns a supply businesses, Hager said last year’s construction downturn had not affected him as much as other contractors.

“I’m afraid some of the smaller boys may not be able to survive,” he said.

Echoing Locker, Hager said the demand for lower-priced homes, including duplexes, has been a bright spot in the construction market this year.

“You can find a positive in most any situation,” said Ron Weaver, executive director of the Madison County Home Builders Association. “Madison County has fared much better than other parts of the state and the nation.”

Madison County issued 51 permits for single-family dwellings in the first quarter, according to statistics from Planning and Codes Administrator Duane Curry. Richmond issued 60, and Berea issued 29. The numbers include renovations as well as new home starts.

Richmond issued permits for nine multi-family dwellings, while Berea issued two. None were issued by the county.

Richmond, where a large shopping complex is under way off Exit 87 of Interstate 75, outpaced Berea and the county in commercial construction permits. Richmond issued 11 commercial permits, compared with three for the county and two for Berea.

Statistics for Richmond were provided by Codes Enforcement Director Joe Lillis. Chasity Pearson of the Berea Codes Department compiled Berea’s statistics.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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