2014 boom brings challenges for local construction industry
January 2, 2015
As the calendar flips to 2015, the local construction industry will look back with fondness on the past year, which saw the industry hit near-record levels in the Park City area.
But those in the industry say challenges came along with the prosperity. Chief among them were finding enough qualified laborers to keep up with the sheer amount of work and inspection backlogs that delayed projects.
Geri Strand, executive officer of the Park City Area Home Builders Association, said many people left the construction industry during the economic downturn that saw demand for workers stall. So when the construction boom came to the area this year — the industry in Park City proper eclipsed $100 million for the first time since 2008 — there weren’t always enough workers to keep up.
"If they’re backed up on the framing because they can’t get the framers out, then that sets everybody back," Strand said. "Everybody is kind of struggling to fight for qualified labor. We hear it quite often: ‘I’m looking for a superintendent or this or that. Keep your ears open.’"
Strand said the lack of workers in the area mean the industry is drawing them in from Salt Lake City.
"We’re booming a lot more than the valley is," Strand said. "We’re seeing a lot of new faces, as far as the builders go. They’re coming to where the work is."
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Even so, Joe Rametta, president of the Park City Area Home Builders Association, said it’s not always easy to attract workers from the valley.
"They earn a little less than we pay up here, but they don’t have to fight the congestion and drive an hour each direction to come work in Park City," said Rametta, who owns Rametta & Co., a general contracting company that offers residential and commercial construction services.
Another factor that worked against the industry this year was the Summit County building department’s inability to keep up with the volume of inspections. Strand said inspectors can normally get to a work site within 24 hours of a request, but waits increased to up to five days, depending on the type of inspection required.
"That is really costing the builders a lot, because if they’re waiting on a cement-pour inspection for five days, that holds up the whole entire job, not just that one inspection," she said. "It costs them a lot of money."
Rametta said the Park City building department was more equipped to handle the amount of inspections than the county was and operated normally, more or less. Summit County’s recently approved fiscal year 2015 budget includes money for two new positions within the building department to help meet the demand for inspections. According to the budget proposal, the county had seen an increase in inspection requests from 7,031 in 2013 to 13,053 in 2014 as of November.
Neither the Summit County nor Park City building departments returned multiple calls for comment.
"It’s a pain in the butt," Rametta said of waiting for inspections. "But we’ve had some very productive discussions with the county. They’ve been very receptive to our concerns, and I think we’re moving in a positive direction to correct that problem."
There also was an increase in the cost of labor and building materials during the year. But Rametta said the increases were minor and typical of the industry. The fact the industry hasn’t boomed nationwide like it has in Park City meant demand for materials hasn’t skyrocketed, keeping costs relatively stable.
"Yes, things are costing a little bit more money, from a labor and a material standpoint," he said. "But is it significantly more than it was two years ago? Not really. You’ve got to realize that what we’re seeing locally isn’t happening in the rest of the nation. We are in a very unique position, being in a resort community."
As much as the construction industry soared in 2014, Strand expects the pace to continue into 2015. While that will surely bring more challenges, it’s a good problem to have.
"We’re feeling great," she said. "Some of our builders are booked out until 2016. They literally can’t take on any more jobs."