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Out-of-state workforce helps Idaho rebound with construction jobs

Workers at a construction site.

Workers at a construction site. Chuck Graves, president of construction and concrete at McAlvain Construction in Boise, said Idaho construction companies are finding many of their workers out of state. File photo.

Idaho’s No. 1 ranking in population growth directly propelled the Gem State back into the Top 10 states in construction job growth in November after spending much of 2017 lower in the rankings.

Idaho placed No. 9 with a 6.7 percent increase in November to 44,500 construction jobs, the highest number since July 2008, and also added 700 jobs or 1.6 percent from October to November to rank No. 13 among the states, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of Labor Department data.

Idaho’s ranking still puts it short of the No. 1 it enjoyed through much of 2016. The state and nation have faced a worker shortage all year, said Stephen Sandherr, AGC’s CEO.

The worker shortage is “amplified” in Idaho, said Chuck Graves, president

Chuck Graves

Chuck Graves

of construction and concrete at McAlvain Construction in Boise.

“A lot of our new hires are coming from out of state,” Graves said. “I think there are more California license plates than Idaho plates (at McAlvain).”

Graves noted that Idaho’s No. 9 ranking may be misleading.

“With our size, it doesn’t take much to skew our numbers,” he said. “A couple things skew the statistics. There are a couple very large projects in the Treasure Valley. The other thing is food service in the Magic Valley has some large projects coming online.”

McAlvain, among Boise’s largest general contractors, is cautiously evaluating new projects.

“We’re taking a very close look at the work we take on,” said Graves, also president of Idaho AGC. “We’re a lot more particular of the work we’re taking on.”

Idaho is growing quickly; a recent study put it among the top five among the states for incoming migration. AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson acknowledged Idaho’s recently announced No. 1 population growth rate and that “some of them are qualified for construction.”

Graves, Sandherr and Simonson took part in a Jan. 3 AGC media briefing regarding the construction sector forecast, based on survey results from more than 1,000 construction firms across the country.

The survey found that 73 percent of construction companies planned to add workers in 2018 even though 82 percent of the participating construction firms believe hiring qualified workers will be as hard or even harder than it was last year.

“Despite these challenges, 2018 should prove to be a good year for the construction industry,” Sandherr said.

Simonson noted 53 percent of survey participants predict growth in construction work while only 9 percent expect a decrease. He said the 44 point spread is the largest since AGC has done the industry survey.

 

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.