An annual survey of 500 industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) contractors across Ontario reveals that the business outlook for 2012 remains positive, but less so than in previous years.

The survey was done by Ipsos-Reid for the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS), which represents the interests of the organized building trades and their signatory contractors in the ICI sector.

Thirty-three per cent of the contractors surveyed expect to conduct more business this year while 14 per cent expect to conduct less business.

Work expectations were strongest in northern Ontario where 80 per cent of contractors in the region rated the current economic situation as good. With nearly $5 billion in investment slated to begin this year, northern contractors have significantly upped their expectations for 2012.

Conversely, work forecasts were weakest in southwestern Ontario, consistent with their bleak appraisal of their current economic situation.

Contractors in the GTA and central Ontario tempered their expectations the most versus 2011.

Firms in eastern Ontario were the second most positive when rating their work expectations.

By sector, contractors who do work in the industrial and institutional segments are expecting to do less business this year, while those in the commercial sector expect to be busier.

Meanwhile, another report by the OCS forecasts that construction will continue to be a leader in employment growth over the coming years.

The report, called Construction Looking Forward, forecasts that 120,000 new workers will be required to meet increased demand and retirements by 2020.

New entrants to the trades will fill about one-half of those positions, the report indicates, which leaves a gap of approximately 60,000 workers.