All but 12 communities nationwide saw declines in construction employment between September 2008 and September 2009, according to a recent analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) of metropolitan area employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The analysis found more construction jobs were lost in Phoenix (35,100) than in any other city in the country. “The areas that got really hard hit are the Sunbelt fast-growth areas where the economic model for the last 20 years has been centered around an influx of new residents and dealing with the construction that they bring,” says Brian Turmail, senior director of public affairs for Arlington, Va.-based AGC. “Phoenix was one of these classic construction boom towns that had an economy built almost exclusively around growth, and when the growth stopped and housing prices took a plunge that essentially devastated the market.”

All told, 38 communities saw employment declines of 20 percent or more during the past 12 months. Reno-Sparks, Nev., had the largest percentage decline with a 35 percent drop.

By comparison, only one community saw double-digit job gains. Columbus, Ind., led the nation in construction job growth with a 15 percent increase. This uptick was due to an infusion of state and federal funds to help stimulate reconstruction after recent flooding.

In total, eight cities saw increases in construction employment year-over-year, yet combined, these cities added only 2,100 construction jobs over the past 12 months.

The murky employment landscape isn’t surprising. “Construction is such a lagging indicator in any cycle,” says Mike Schlegel, president of Greenbelt, Md.-based Bozzuto Construction Co. “I suspect we will see job losses in the construction industry continue into the future.” Rachel Z. Azoff