Upcoming construction season promises to be busy

Developers in Southwest Washington are responding to a wide variety of clients this year

Excavator construction site

This summer’s construction season is already looking busy for Clark County. After one of the hardest recessions to hit the construction industry in at least half a century, several local companies are finding themselves turning down work because there is just too much going on.

According to Ron Frederiksen of RSV Building Solutions, several retirements this year at his company lead to difficulty finding quality replacements, because younger would-be construction workers chose different industries after the 2008 recession expecting that jobs would not return. But even with a labor shortage, RSV Building Solutions and other local development firms have several major projects in the works.

RSV’s biggest project this year is a 50,000-square-foot concrete manufacturing plant in Woodland, which is expected to break ground any day. The project is being completed for Columbia Precast Products, and will effectively double the Washougal-based company’s current staff. However, due to ongoing development throughout Clark County, the project has not been without its challenges.

Frederiksen explained that Columbia Precast Products originally wanted to build its new plant somewhere in Clark County, but was unable to locate a suitable 20-acre plot anywhere in the area, forcing them to move north. This is a trend Frederiksen said he expects to see into the future.

In fact, RSV’s other major project this year is following a similar path, though the company behind it – a Portland-based clothing retailer – didn’t go as far north as Woodland to find a site. Frederiksen said RSV is constructing a 15,000-square-foot building for the retailer, which he declined to name, along Highway 99 in Hazel Dell. He pointed out that most of the significant development over the last decade in Hazel Dell has taken place south of 78th Street, and said he is hopeful that the new project will help shift construction northward into parts of the community that haven’t yet benefited from the revitalized economy.

Residential still rules

While commercial space is definitely on the upswing in Clark County, residential development is still the biggest portion of new and upcoming projects, said Avaly Scarpelli of the Building Industry Association.

Scarpelli pointed out that developers in Southwest Washington are responding to a wide variety of clients this year. In particular, a number of wealthy employees from new-to-the-area corporations are purchasing custom luxury homes with cash, she said. But more encouraging for the local economy, many first-time homebuyers are also looking for moderately priced housing with some amenities.

In both cases, the Building Industry Association is seeing growing demand for green housing and for community space like swimming pools and parks within individual subdivisions.

Gramor Development’s ongoing Waterfront Vancouver project is a strong example of what consumers are looking for in new development, officials with the project said. The Waterfront Vancouver is expected to add 3,300 housing units, 1.25 million square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of retail and hospitality space along with 10 acres of parks. This mixed-use model aims to allow for more convenient and sustainable housing in the Vancouver area, epitomizing what buyers are expecting from developers today – especially as trends dictate that people are more interested in living in areas with a strong sense of community.

In fact, that sense of community is one of the factors driving another RSV project this year. Daybreak Youth Services recently purchased a 30,000-square-foot former church in Battle Ground, which will become an in-patient drug and alcohol treatment facility for youth, ages 12 to 17. While the project is in its infancy, Frederiksen estimated that the facility will have 40 beds once it is fully operational.

If current trends continue, Scarpelli said we can expect to see more projects that incorporate community space into their plans, including affordable housing, community centers, parks and space for nonprofits to operate and serve the local area. We can also expect an increasing number of construction-related jobs to return in the coming years.

However, Frederiksen warned, unless more people learn the necessary skills en masse, developers may struggle to fill all their job listings for years to come.

Overall, officials agreed, this year’s growth across all sectors promises to be strong.

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