Spokane Journal of Business

Construction industry looks strong in Spokane despite workforce shortages


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Despite difficulty finding qualified workers, the construction industry here will continue its overall strong economic momentum into 2018, say some industry professionals.

James T. “Tim” Welsh, CEO of Spokane-based contractor Garco Construction Inc., says 2017 has been a good year for the industry.

“I think most contractors are busy, and I think that some contractors are having a difficult time finding qualified help,” says Welsh.

Part of the struggle to find workers goes back to the recession, he says. Many workers couldn’t find jobs in the industry and went elsewhere.

“Work came back, and a lot of people had a difficult time filling those slots,” he says.

Welsh says a number of government projects have been held back until Washington state passes a capital budget, so some work that should’ve been bid out in 2017 will be delayed until 2018.

“We are concerned that that could have some side effects on workload,” he says. 

For Garco, Welsh estimates the company’s revenue is up 10 percent to 15 percent from 2016, when the company brought in $167.4 million worth of work, according to the Journal’s Leading Contractors list.

“Overall, I think everybody is projecting that the construction economy should be robust through 2018,” he says.

Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for public works and utilities at the city of Spokane, says the city will have new and continuing public works construction in 2018 of around $150 million.

The city has been working on combined sewer overflow projects and, as of Dec. 6, plans to bid out other projects by the end of the year, says Feist.

“It will be a really strong year for construction from a city public construction standpoint,” she says.

Julie Happy, division communications manager of neighborhood and business services for the city of Spokane, says about 18,300 building permits were issued through November 2017, down 8 percent from the year-earlier period but up 16 percent from 2015. 

For the first 11 months of this year, permit valuations totaled $486 million—$429 million in private construction and $57 million in public projects. That’s up compared with year-end 2016 statistics of $413 million total in permit valuations, split into $350 million in private construction and $63 million in public construction, says Happy.

Suzanne Schmidt, president and CEO of the Inland Pacific chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors Inc., says the construction industry here remains strong.

“The members of our association are telling me that they already have a substantial amount of work on their books for 2018,” says Schmidt. “Most of them are not slowing down for the winter or laying anyone off. They’re working through as much as they can.”

Like Welsh, Schmidt says there’s a lack of workers in the industry.

“What they’re saying is that they have jobs lined up and that 2018 looks as good, if not better, than 2017,” she says. “The only issue that they have at this point is having enough manpower to complete the work that they have on the books.”

Samantha Peone
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