Construction industry red hot in Clark County

Industry builds on improving economy, job security & low interest rates

Construction

While spring generally brings with it a surge in construction projects, 2015 is in particular, off to strong start.

Kelly Helmes, vice president of New Tradition Homes, said his company has seen a greater than 30 percent increase in Clark County builds over this time last year.

“We saw interest begin to increase last fall, growth in sales over the winter and now construction,” Helmes said.

Darcy Altizer, executive director of Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA), echoed New Tradition’s rise in new construction.

“Our Plan Center, where developers post their projects, has seen a 25 percent increase over last year,” she said. “Things have definitely been ramping up this spring.”

Altizer added that SWCA’s membership has risen as well – something she attributes to the Plan Center, as developers and contractors look to access the hot marketplace.

“We have seen a number of businesses that had historically leased property become interested in building out their own,” noted Neil Brown, business development manager of Robertson & Olson Construction Inc.

Rachel Jirik, Robertson & Oslon’s marketing coordinator, added that the changes in the economy have business owners more savvy of their financial situations.

“Business owners don’t want to be beholden to changes in the lease market. Some are eager to take a little more control over their situation,” she said.

Fuel Medical in Camas, a Robertson & Olson client, is just one recent example of a business that made the switch from leasing to owning. The company recently completed renovation of the Westlie Ford Service building in downtown Camas.

While much of their business comes from long-standing clients, Brown noted another indicator of a turn-around in the industry is growing interest from new developers active in Clark County.

Altizer confirmed that the surge of construction in Clark County has been a healthy mix – new projects and renovations as well as the initiation of projects that had previously been on hold are a part of the activity. Single and multi-family residential sectors are strong with projects in retail and light industrial also underway.

“We are seeing more demand in custom construction,” said Jase Stefanski of Cascade Home Loans. “New homes are selling quickly. Builders are having a hard time keeping model homes available; they are selling before they are completed.”

How did Clark County’s strengthened construction industry come about? According to Stefanski, interest rates coming down, along with fears of them going back up, stimulating buyers into action.

“Today’s loans are real,” he said. “They are a more difficult to get, but they are qualified and verified. Some who have worked hard to recover from the crash are now in a position to qualify [for a loan].”

Helmes added, “There has been a lot of pent up demand. With an alignment of attractive interest rates, a stabilizing economy and people feeling they have more job security, that pent up demand is now being released.”

With that increased demand, comes a new challenge. Altizer pointed out that the need for skilled workers is in high demand.

“Following the downturn in the economy, the labor pool in our industry fled. Between essentially a seven-year void of new talent along with natural attrition, we have a very competitive labor market as demand rises for new construction,” Helmes stated.

Brown discussed how Robertson & Olson manages the very real staffing challenge.

“We work hard to maintain balance. We don’t like to be overburdened. It is important that we have the right load that our team members can handle. Our brand and quality of work are on the line,” he said.

In fact, Brown said that every Monday his team discusses that very issue – ensuring they have the right clients, projects and staff to maintain the ideal work load with the quality that they demand.

Another challenge for the construction industry is getting financing. While the consumer market is beginning to turn their lending challenges around, funding projects can still be a challenge for contractors, Altizer said.

Those challenges aside, Altizer sees positive momentum and energy continuing in the industry, especially in Clark County.

“SWCA is partnering with the NW Construction Expo in October. We’ll be bringing the event to Vancouver for the first time,” she said.

Throughout Clark County, the construction resurgence can be seen. Particular areas enjoying growth are the north (Salmon Creek) and east (Camas) for commercial work. Brown cited that in addition to Fuel Medical in Camas, three new Walgreen stores, the Habitat for Humanity rebuild, upgrades at the Heathman Lodge and construction of Prestige Plaza as projects of particular note.

Residential construction shares a similar footprint.

New Tradition Homes, whether their rise in one-off builds on client property or their own developments, Camas to the east and Ridgefield to the north are burgeoning areas for growth. Helmes added that Felida and Battle Ground are two areas of increased interest as well.

Looking ahead, Brown said, the forecast remains strong.

“In the near-term, we’re pretty optimistic,” he explained. “There is a great energy in our office and with our subcontractors. Along with our current projects, seeing new bids and new developers come on board, things are looking good.”

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