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Commentary: Construction industry sees signs of recovery

John Killin

PORTLAND, Ore. — Could we be breaking ground on a recovery in the local construction market?

There is reason for optimism with several pieces of encouraging news in recent weeks about major projects within our region.

The biggest piece of inspiring news came last month as Intel officially announced that it will dedicate up to $8 billion – much of it in Oregon – to expand and upgrade its chip-making facilities. In fact, new reports suggest ground is already being broken and construction could begin soon in the Hillsboro area.

The last couple of years have been hard for the industry, but Intel’s investment is projected to create 6,000 to 8,000 construction jobs. While this will make only a small dent, it is significant. Estimates are that Oregon has lost at least 40,000 construction jobs since 2007, so this project alone has the potential to put one in five unemployed tradespeople back to work.

Also, CenterCal Properties may be close to breaking ground on a 650,000-square-foot mall in Oregon City. Rumors suggest that Cabela’s could become an anchor tenant. The Oregon City project, called The Rivers, is approximately 50 percent larger than Bridgeport Village. Construction of that project cost more than $250 million in 2004. The Rivers then would possibly be close to $400 million – more than double the amount of state stimulus legislation in 2009.

And finally, election results from last week brought encouraging news for business. There are signs of more balanced power at both the state and national levels. No matter how we each voted, I think we can all hope that the new checks and balances will lead to better policy choices and political stability that will also provide business leaders with greater confidence needed to spur growth. With more pro-business and pro-construction leaders setting policy in 2011 there is a good chance to see an increasing number of businesses willing to grow, hire and build.

At the very least, these projects and political changes mark a renewed optimism for many in our industry. These are signs that the private sector might start spending money on construction again. For far too long, it’s been public sector work that has kept the industry going. Throughout that time many have worried that public projects can sustain only a certain portion of the industry for the short term.

Ultimately, the demand for private work needed to return.

Most encouraging about this news is that confidence is growing. More optimism will encourage more investment and more ground being broken.

Looking ahead to the next problem … as the economy rebounds we will again begin inching closer to a workforce shortage in construction. With that, we will need to ensure that our industry is not a roadblock for future growth in Oregon. Over the next decade we will likely see a huge workforce turnover as baby boomers begin to retire.

John Killin is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors Pacific Northwest Chapter and executive director of the Independent Electrical Contractors of Oregon.

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  1. I very much appreciated this article. It’s been a challenging time for many in the construction industry and it’s refreshing to see that there are good things happening. If projects are breaking with our neighbors in Oregon, they’ll likely be here, too.

  2. Good for Oregon/Portland.

    What the hell does this have to do with Idaho? Is Micron building some expansion? Is somebody else putting up a new mall? Is there anything similiar going on in any part of Idaho?


    then why the hell shoulod we care?