EAGLE COUNTY — There have been a lot of lean years in the local building industry. Now, companies are staffing up again, thanks to a strengthening economy and increased demand.
The value of building permits issued in Eagle County passed $24 million in the first four months of this year. If those numbers hold up across the entire year, then they’ll approach the $78 million in 2009 permit value. The story is the same in Vail, where permits for everything from decks to homes have been coming into the town’s community development office.
“We’ve seen a real increase this year (in Vail),” town community development department director George Ruther said. “A week or two ago we had 88 applications in one week.”
Permit activity in Vail ranges from new homes to a re-do of the eastern portion of the Timber Ridge Apartments.
At the county level, there are new homes being built, with roughly one-third of those permits being issued for work in the Roaring Fork Valley.
That work has one of the valley’s most prominent construction companies hopping.
When R.A. Nelson & Associates company president Travis Bossow was asked if the company was busy, his first response was an enthusiastic “yes.”
Bossow company is involved in the Timber Ridge project in Vail, which should kick off in June, as well as the improvements at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. But, reflecting the county’s permit information, Bossow said R.A. Nelson may have more work this year in the Roaring Fork Valley, from Aspen into Basalt and El Jebel.
R.A. Nelson isn’t involved just in big projects, either. There’s still a lot of renovation work going on, he said, from private homes to Manor Vail and the Four Seasons.
Rick Patriacca owns a construction company that bears his name. The company does both work for other contractors and its own projects. Patriacca said his revenue this year is on track to beat last year’s numbers by 50 percent or more.
Looking for Laborers
The problem, Patriacca said, is finding qualified people to do that work.
“The labor force just isn’t present any more, so it costs more to do things,” Patriacca said.
When the local construction industry contracted in 2009, a lot of the people working in the industry left the valley, so those people aren’t available five years later. And, given that the Front Range construction industry is bustling, if not booming, there, Patriacca said a lot of people aren’t willing to move where the cost of living is so much higher.
Work in the mountains has also returned in large part to a seasonal business, Patriacca said, another hurdle to recruiting good people.
But there are jobs available.
Bossow said after “cutting brutally” through the tough times, his company has been able to find enough people to keep the saws buzzing and hammers pounding. In all, R.A. Nelson has added more than two dozen people to the payroll in the past several months.
One of those people, in fact, returned to the valley after working for a while in the Denver area. Others had stayed in the valley through the tough times and were re-hired.
‘Happy to be Growing’
Bossow said his company’s work is also returning, at least in part to “negotiated work,” in which the contractor is part of the team design, development and construction team from the start of a project. That work lends more certainty to a construction company’s planning. The other side of the business, a “hard bid,” often involves being the low bidder on an existing project. Those bids can hurt the bottom line if a project’s design doesn’t match construction’s realities.
But being short on people is a good problem to have considering the alternative.
“We’re happy to be growing,” Bossow said. “We have more opportunity on big and small projects, and we expect some bigger projects to come through later this year.”