Surge in Eagle County building permits has companies scrambling to keep pace
By the numbers
744: Building permits issued in unincorporated Eagle County in 2017 (number doesn’t include individual towns).
680: Permits issued in 2016.
710: Permits issued in 2004.
368: Permits issued in 2011.
Source: Eagle County
EAGLE COUNTY — The story of the nearly decade-long recovery from the collapse of the local building and real estate industry starts with building permit numbers.
Like the local real estate business, the construction industry, at least measured by the number of building permits issued, has finally surpassed the boom days in the middle of the previous decade.
There were 744 building permits issued by Eagle County in 2017. That doesn’t include activity in the towns. Still, the 2017 number was the largest posted since 2004, when there were 710 permits issued.
The 2017 number represents the latest in an upward trend that started in 2012, as the area started to recover from an economic slump that at one time resulted in the loss of roughly 6,000 jobs in the county.
After bottoming out in 2011, when only 368 permits were issued, county-issued building permits have increased every year since.
The real boost began in 2015. That year, 593 permits were issued, almost 100 more than in 2014.
While the county has seen a steady rise, the past three years have been more or less stable in the town of Vail. There, more than 700 permits per year have been issued since 2015, topping out with 774 permits in 2016.
At the western end of the valley, the town of Gypsum saw 199 permits issued in 2015, 168 in 2016 and 223 in 2017.
Those permits aren’t all for homes, of course. They include remodeling, repair, renovation and other projects.
Trying to keep up
The fees represent a lot of economic activity, as well as revenue for the governments that issue those permits. In Gypsum, building permit revenue in 2017 exceeded $1.9 million.
All that economic activity has put pressure on local construction firms and subcontractors.
At RA Nelson, one of the oldest firms in the valley, company president Travis Bossow said crews are booked through much of this year.
The company is “hiring as necessary to fill the need,” Bossow said.
And the firm is busy. The company could take on a custom home or two, Bossow said, but “the majority of 2018 is booked.”
The situation is similar at Evans Chaffee Construction.
Company co-owner Chris Evans said that firm is also largely booked through much of this year. It’s a pleasant change after the depths of the slump, when Evans Chaffee was bidding on any job that came available, including a car wash in Rifle.
Like RA Nelson, Evans Chaffee is hiring. But, Evans added, “It’s challenging to find well-qualified employees for positions we’re currently hiring for.”
Both Bossow and Evans said there’s a shortage of subcontractors to do plumbing, electrical and other work. But both said their firms have good relationships with companies that do those jobs.
Relationships are crucial
“We’ve been able to get work accomplished with our core group (of subcontractors),” Evans said. “We try to take good care of them,” he added, something that includes promptly paying subcontractors and bidding jobs in ways that allow those companies to stay profitable.
But the fact remains there are simply fewer people available to do the work that’s being bid.
Evans said his company’s staff is roughly half the size it was in 2008. But, he added, “I don’t think I’d want to be back to that level of staffing.” Like most companies in the past decade, construction firms have become more efficient and are using more technology to find those efficiencies.
Still, people are needed to build things.
At R&H Mechanical in Eagle, a plumbing and heating business, operations manager Tim Braun said that company is also hiring “constantly.” The firm also has an internal training program to keep employees up-to-date and sharp.
Keeping people working to be the best they can benefits both the company and its clients, Braun said.
And, unlike a lot of companies, R&H is a bigger firm now than it was a decade ago.
“We’ve been fortunate to grow over the years, and we’ve grown at a steady pace,” Braun said. “We’ve been able to hire people to meet those needs.
Unlike the construction firms contacted for this story, Braun said R&H is busy, but can take on more work.
“We’re fortunate to have really good people to do what has to be done for the community,” Braun said. “We’re always looking for more opportunities.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.