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Construction job gains again put Lewiston in national spotlight

Clearwater Paper in Lewiston is removing 12 batch digesters to install a continuous pulp mill digester. Photo courtesy of Valley Vision Economic Development.

Clearwater Paper in Lewiston is removing 12 batch digesters to install a continuous pulp mill digester. Photo courtesy of Valley Vision Economic Development.

Large construction projects at Lewiston’s two largest employers raised employment in the northern Idaho city, pushing the Lewiston-Clarkston metro area to a No. 2 ranking in the nation in construction job growth for the second month in a row in June, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

Lewiston has seen a 29 percent increase in construction jobs since June 2016. It saw a 23 percent increase from May to May. June had a year-over-year increase of 400 construction jobs to reach 1,880, according to AGC’s analysis of U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Lewiston’s percentage job growth in June was only eclipsed by the 63 percent construction job increase in Bloomington, Ill.,which fielded calls from the national AGC office and media but could provide no insight.

“We really don’t have an explanation,” said Roger Huebner, director of Labor Relations at the Central Illinois Builders of AGC. “An increase of 1,900 jobs, I don’t have answer.”

In May, Lewiston was surpassed by only Lake Charles, La., which ranked No. 3 in June.

Lewiston’s construction boom has been driven by large projects at Clearwater Paper Corp. and Vista Outdoor, the two largest employers, and by the construction of two 45,000-square-foot buildings by newcomer P. Kay Metal, a Los Angeles metal manufacturer.

Vista in August is finishing a combined 37,500-square-foot expansion at three Lewiston facilities and Clearwater is in the closing months of a two-year, $160 million upgrade of its Lewiston mill to replace 12 batch digesters with a continuous pulp mill digester.

“You’ll probably see our numbers go down after this month,” said Doug Mattoon, executive director of Valley Vision Economic Development. “Construction jobs will go down, but other employment numbers will go up, manufacturing jobs.”

Boise tumbled to No. 118 among 358 U.S. metro areas with a 6 percent gain in construction jobs from June to June with 1,200 new jobs to reach 21,600. Boise had seen double digit percentage increases much of last year, and once ranked No. 1 among metro areas as several major project in the Treasure Valley were in full flower.

Pocatello recorded the same No. 118 ranking with a 6-percent gain to 1,900 construction jobs.

Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene both ranked No. 72 with 8-percent gains to 4,200 and 5,300 construction jobs, respectively.

Idaho’s construction job growth is in line with that of other western states, according to AGC statistics.

“Western metro areas, from southern California and Nevada to Oregon and Washington, logged many of the largest absolute and percentage increases in construction employment in the past year,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “In contrast, the metros with the largest job losses were all in the middle or eastern portions of the country.”

About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.