Construction companies ready to hire in 2017

Construction crews work on the 145-unit, 423-bed Gather Bellingham building on North Forest Street on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.
Construction crews work on the 145-unit, 423-bed Gather Bellingham building on North Forest Street on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.

Contractors are expecting 2017 will be busy when it comes to construction projects in both the private and public sectors.

74 Percentage of Washington state contractors that expect to hire more workers in 2017.

That kind of optimism means more hiring, with 73 percent of contractors across the U.S. planning to add workers this year, according to an annual survey from the Associated General Contractors of America. Washington state contractors were just as optimistic, with 74 percent of those surveyed saying they expect to add employees this year; 15 percent expect to add more than 25 employees.

Some of the optimism is being fueled by expectations of the new federal administration. President-elect Donald Trump has said he plans to invest in major infrastructure improvements and cut regulatory rules to spur more construction. That optimism by contractors could be tempered if the administration and Congress under-deliver, said Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the association.

“If plans to invest in infrastructure, reform healthcare laws and roll back regulations are delayed, many contractors will likely scale back their plans to expand headcounts,” Sandherr said in a news release accompanying the survey.

In Whatcom County, contractors are cautiously optimistic – the biggest concern is being able to find qualified workers, said Liz Evans, northern district manager for AGC of Washington.

“We have a serious shortage in the construction industry, not just in Whatcom County but across the nation,” Evans said. “We lost a huge amount of workforce during the deep recession and have not been able to bring back the workers that left the industry.”

One of the biggest local projects this year is rebuilding Sehome High School. The project is expected to start in June and be ready for students in fall 2019. Bellingham’s Dawson Construction is the general contractor on the project. Work at the refineries and the Bellingham waterfront are also expected to keep construction workers busy, Evans said.

Last year was a fairly busy one in terms of building permits in Bellingham. The city issued permits for projects valued at $189.1 million in 2016, the second-highest total in the past 10 years (the highest was $213 million in 2015).

Last year saw an increase in single-family home construction. Permits were issued for 194 single-family homes in Bellingham, the highest since 2007. It appears apartment/condominium construction has peaked for now in the city; permits were issued for 232 units in 2016, down from 424 in 2015 and 322 in 2014.

While not back to the pre-recession totals 10 years ago, the number of people employed in construction has grown in Whatcom County. In October, the total was 6,900, up from 6,500 in October 2015 and 6,100 in October 2014.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz