Column: Contracting optimism

In preparing for this article, we asked our members what trends they were seeing in the commercial/industrial construction industry. After getting the universal response of “Trends? What trends? There’s no work!,” I discovered that things are actually picking up, albeit with a significant difference in the type and scale of work being sought by many construction companies.

Locally, many current projects are in the area of energy efficiency and sustainability upgrades to existing structures. General contractor JWC Construction is working on large energy efficiency upgrades for the Skyline Crest community, including the “Mr. Slim” heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. This work will provide more than 150 residents in low-income housing with important savings on their utility bills.

In many cases, businesses are choosing to better their existing locations rather than purchasing or leasing new space, which is driving an increase in demand for tenant improvements. To secure funding in a much more restrictive lending environment, many of these clients are seeking assistance from Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs.

Regarding the scale of work, we're seeing a high number of bids on a relatively small number of projects. In addition, there's a lack of local bidders being accepted on some of the larger projects. The Longview Shop Truck Shed Construction Project in Cowlitz County is an example of a small project that wouldn’t have received much attention in the previous boom, but recently received bids from 26 contractors for a job that totals less than $100,000. On the flip side, the City of Vancouver’s 415 Restack Project, a tenant improvement project on a five-story mid-rise downtown, had to be re-bid because several local contractors didn't meet the qualification standards set by the City. The Powell Butte Reservoir project in Portland had similar issues with qualification standards that were set too high for most regional contractors. This trend has resulted in the Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA) taking a closer look at how these standards are set. We're also looking for ways to help local contractors improve their qualifications to compete for these types of contracts.

One key consistency across the industry is a positive outlook of our area’s future. The projects driving that optimism include: plans for expansion and new development at the Port of Vancouver, new momentum for the Columbia River Crossing project and Downtown Waterfront Development, Cinetopia’s new mega-theater, the Westfield Mall remodel and new office/retail development on the East side of Vancouver. These projects and many more reflect the potential for strong economic recovery ahead, and are the product of many business leaders and organizations coming together to ensure that our community continues to grow into a place our children and grandchildren can proudly call home.

I was personally encouraged to hear Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt’s State of the City address, which emphasized a strong commitment to continuing key investments in local and regional infrastructure that are absolutely critical to new and sustained economic investment in the region. With the right leadership in place and continued dialogue between elected officials and business leaders, more companies will take advantage of the great resources available in Southwest Washington. While it has certainly been a rough and trying time, I can say with great confidence that the state of the construction industry is getting stronger.

Mike Bomar is the executive director for the Southwest Washington Contractors Association. He can be reached at Mike@swca.org.

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