2011 has begun with more optimism, for sure. It is supported by some encouraging facts and activities involving Houston’s energy companies, the real estate community, architects and engineers, even lenders. However, as it relates to actual non-residential contract awards the facts are still sobering; the market is still significantly depressed. Data from McGraw Hill suggests that 2011 will be only slightly better for non-residential construction than 2010, well behind 2009, and light years behind the pre-recession 2008 numbers. While we expect the market to improve over the coming months, it will be gradual, and may not be truly discernible until the 4th quarter of this year.So what gives reason for optimism?There are several “front end conditions” that are significantly better than a year ago. If they continue, they will promote new commercial construction projects over time. Specifically, the overall Houston economy is better, thanks mainly to the health of the energy companies.