Eagle County construction industry still busy, despite staffing and other challenges
Inflation is complicating the way companies work
You already know this if you’ve tried to find a contractor lately: People in the trades are working hard to keep up with demand.
Chris Evans, an owner of Evans-Chaffee Construction, said his firm is fully booked through February of next year.
“We’re not even considering additional work at this point,” Evans said.
Travis Bossow is the president of RA Nelson, one of the valley’s best-known construction companies. Bossow said that company is “about as busy as in past years,” adding that 2023 has the potential to be even busier.
General contractors depend in large part on subcontractors that include plumbing and heating firms and electricians.
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Evans said while his company is fully staffed at the moment, subcontractors are more labor-intensive. For those companies, “It’s still a constant struggle to find and keep good people,” Evans said.
Balz Arrigoni of Arrigoni Woods said his company is fully staffed at the moment. The company is doing a lot of wood flooring installation.
And, while Rollie Kjesbo of Nedbo Construction said his company has been dogged by supply-chain problems and months-long delays in receiving items including kitchen appliances, Arrigoni said he’s managed to stock up on inventory.
“It’s almost like a sports store — you buy your gear a year before you need it,” Arrigoni said.
‘The phone’s still ringing’
R&H Mechanical is another of those subcontracting firms. The company works for both contractors and individual customers. Many of those individual clients are retrofitting their homes to more modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
“We feel fortunate the phone’s still ringing,” R&H Vail Valley general manager Tim Braun said. While the first weeks of the new year tend to be a little quieter than other times, Braun said the company has “steady work.”
Like many firms, R&H is always on the lookout for good people to bring onto the team. Braun said that means “getting creative” in recruitment. That includes bringing in people who may not have the kind of experience a company would look for in more normal times.
A good attitude and willingness to learn and work hard can help turn a less-experienced new hire into a valued team member, Braun said.
Evans said, “attitude overcomes aptitude in many cases.” But, he added, a job without enough journeymen workers can be slowed down.
Still, he said, the labor shortage “impacts everybody.”
The construction business doesn’t involve just framers, plumbers and tile-setters. There’s also a good bit of cleanup to do at construction sites.
That’s when Elisse Kelley and her firm, Sweeping Change, get a call.
Sweeping Change has been in business for eight years, and Kelley said the past four years have been consistently busy. In addition to new construction, there’s a lot of remodeling work going on, as new owners change their units to suit their needs.
“The construction side of things is still optimistic,” Kelley said. Sweeping Change cleans up depending on what an owner or contractor wants. Some people want cleanup in stages of construction or want a site cleaned consistently as crews are working through a unit.
Kelley said Sweeping Change has been increasingly busy in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. TSweeping Change has a crew of 40.
While construction activity continues largely unabated, inflation is having an impact on a number of projects.
Bossow said some clients are taking “a step back” from their original plans. Some are wondering if they really need a home as large as they’d first planned. Clients have asked if they could go a bit smaller with their plans, Bossow said.
Kjesbo said his clients aren’t looking to downsize projects, but in some cases are opting for lower-priced appliance packages for remodeling jobs.
Inflation has made job estimating far more difficult, Evans said. Kjesbo noted that plumbers who used to charge $100 per hour are now getting $150. Drywallers who used to charge $40 per hour are now asking for $55 or $60 per hour.
“I used to think I was pretty good at estimating,” Evans said. Now, he added, he waits to see firm pricing from suppliers and subcontractors before submitting new estimates.
Kjesbo has been in the local construction business for 40 years and has ridden out good times and bad. He’s ready to ride out current problems in his industry.
Even after 40 years, Kjesbo, 70, is ready for what’s next.
“I have no plans of retiring,” he said.