Homebuilders in La Plata County are preparing for a busy summer season, and some expect large projects could put pressure on a small labor pool.
“I imagine that it is only going to get compounded a little bit this summer,” said Frank Enea, owner of Classique Builders.
During summer, large hotel and apartment projects will likely stretch the county’s labor pool, he said.
There are about 3,000 people working in the county’s construction industry, but it could likely support 3,500 to 4,000 people, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.
The number of people looking for work in La Plata County also is small. In February, the unemployment rate was 3.4 percent.
The construction industry nationwide is facing a shortage because many skilled workers went into other industries during the recession, and not enough young people are interested in it, La Plata County general contractors say.
The national trend is forcing wages up. The nationwide average hourly pay in the industry was $28.42, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.
Jaaron Mankins, owner of SilverPick Contracting, expects wages have likely risen in La Plata County as well.
“With a continued good economy, that is going to translate into a better bottom dollar for workers,” he said.
A statewide construction industry outlook found that 76 percent of contractors expected to hire people in 2017, and 67 percent had increased their base pay for salaried or skilled professionals.
General contractors in La Plata County say subcontractors face the biggest challenge hiring people and it can slow building projects.
S and S Construction, a company that does excavation and concrete work, has seen the labor shortage ease somewhat in the last two years because some people came from the oil and gas fields to work in construction, said owner Dennis Deaderick.
“When oil and gas was going full bore that took a lot of our labor force away,” he said, noting that construction can’t compete with the wages that the oil and gas companies can pay.
Roofers and carpenters in particular are in high demand, said Rob Sachs, president of Sachs Construction, which does commercial and residential building.
The company also has experienced a shortage of applicants for white-collar positions.
For example, the company was surprised when it failed to get a response to an ad for an accounting position, Sachs said. It ended up going through an employment placement firm to fill the position.
Sachs does not expect subcontractors to move to town and bring workers with them to fill the need because construction also is booming in other areas.
And young entry-level employees who could help address the shortage are not entering the field.
“High schools have promoted AP classes over trade classes, that’s kind of where it starts,” said Greg Mantell-Hecathorn of Mantell-Hecathorn Builders.
To encourage interest, the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado has set aside $10,000 for scholarships for the last two years, said Katie Middleton, executive officer of the association. The association plans to continuing offering scholarships for as long as it is able, she said.
Despite the shortage, homebuilders are expecting 2017 to be a banner year because the inventory of homes is low and housing prices have continued to rise.
The average home price in the county during February was $501,010, up from $397,585 last February. This may be driven by a recovery in the luxury home market, Zalneraitis said in an email.
Many homebuilders are focused on custom homes for buyers and are not building speculative houses, Sachs said.
“There is really no reason for them to go and build spec projects and take the risk,” he said.