Construction starts across the Twin Cities plunged 27% in December as nonresidential building projects continued to decline amid the global pandemic, according to a report released Thursday by Dodge Data & Analytics.

Total building starts for the 13-county metro area dropped to $644.3 million last month from the same period a year ago, a decline fueled by a drop-off in nonresidential building efforts such as offices, stores, hotels, warehouses, schools, churches, clinics and factories.

In contrast, construction of single-family homes and apartment buildings rose 2% in December to $468 million.

The small improvement in housing builds was not enough to pull the full-year data out of the mud. Metro building starts declined in all categories for the full 2020 year, according to the report. The overall total fell 19% to $7.2 billion.

The Twin Cities decline was steeper than that of the nation as a whole.

For the full year, total U.S. construction starts fell 10% to $766.3 billion. Nonresidential building starts dropped 24%, while highways, bridges and most other "non-building" construction declined by 14%.

The few industries enjoying gains during the year included single-family houses and gas and power utility construction projects. The utility/gas plant category rose 70% in the month due to the start of two large power-generation facilities.

"The roller coaster year of 2020 is over, but not forgotten. The scars from the pandemic and recession will be long lasting and resulted in significant declines across most construction sectors," said Dodge Data Chief Economist Richard Branch in a statement. "There will be difficult months ahead for the economy and for construction starts as COVID-19 cases mount. However, the continued roll out of vaccines means 2021 will be a better year."

The grim construction report comes as publicly held companies are starting to post mixed fourth-quarter earnings reports. Some companies, such as Maplewood-based 3M, Minneapolis-based Graco and Golden Valley-run Pentair reported positive quarters that beat analysts' expectations amid robust demand for face masks, home improvement products and industrial equipment as well as home water purification systems.

Economists have noted that regional and national economies aren't expected to see sustained improvement until late 2021, when more Americans have greater access to coronavirus vaccines.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725