It appears Whatcom County is in another construction boom period.
Whatcom County’s unemployment rate in April dropped to 4.8 percent, the lowest since January 2008, according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
Leading the way is construction, which employed an estimated 8,100 people last month. That’s a 25 percent increase compared to a year ago when the number of construction workers hovered around 6,500.
Several factors are at play for the current uptick in Whatcom County construction activity. Part of it is cyclical, where every few years it comes together for a really busy building season, said Liz Evans, the northern district manager of the Associated General Contractors of Washington.
“At some point it will cool off, but not right now,” Evans said. “We have a big backlog (of projects).”
Also fueling the busy construction season is the pent-up demand. Whatcom County’s construction industry took longer than some areas in the state to recover from the last recession, particularly when compared to the Seattle area. Now that construction is back on track, it is catching up on projects that were put off for years.
Evans said apartment and rental construction remains very hot right, but many areas like commercial and road projects are also keeping companies busy. She noted that many Whatcom County construction companies work on projects across the state, especially in Seattle, where construction activity continues to be intense.
When it comes to workers, Evans said many local companies are in hiring mode.
“They are hiring all the time right now,” Evans said after being asked when contractors are looking to increase staff.
A busy construction season will also have an impact on homeowners that are hoping to hire for remodeling work. Subcontractors are also busier now, so finding that plumber or carpenter might be more challenging this summer, Evans said.
Construction isn’t the only industry experiencing job growth in Whatcom County, according to the Employment Security Department. In the past year local manufacturing added 600 jobs, while tourism added 200.
Even retail, which has struggled with national chain closures as more people shop online, added 400 jobs in the past year, increasing the industry’s total to 11,400 jobs in Whatcom County.
King County continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state, coming in at 2.8 percent, followed by Snohomish County at 3.1 percent. Northeastern Washington counties continued to have some of the highest rates in the state, with Ferry County on top at 10.7 percent.