Tri-State Electric Inc. doubled its employees in the past two years to 120, says owner Max Stith.
The reason? A new Construction Wireman/Construction Electrician program allows Idaho union workers to work with and help train nonunion workers.
Idaho electrical contractors, including Tri-State, and the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, created the program to become more competitive with nonunion contractors.
Stith says Idaho is one of 18 states without a prevailing wage law, so nonunion contractors are able to undercut union contractors in bids on jobs. Consumers usually pick the lowest bid, he says. The competition stiffened during the recession, and wages for electricians dropped, he says.
But the new program is making his company competitive.
Subcontractors in electrical, plumbing and HVAC thinned out from 2006 through 2009, according to licensing data from the Idaho Division of Building Safety. Numbers have increased each year since, especially in electrical. Only licenses for public works contractors have roller-coastered, declining again this year from 2011.
By comparison, the number of builders and contracting businesses registered with the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses has declined each year since 2006.
Despite the increase, some subcontractors say the past few years have been hard because of the economy.
Ted Frisbee Sr., co-owner of Hobson Fabricating Inc. in Boise, says recession forced his company down to 175 employees, compared with 450 before the recession.
2011 was brutal, says Doug Hayes, sales manager for H.D. Fowler in Meridian. H.D. Fowler is a regional company specializing in waterworks, irrigation, pumps and wastewater treatment equipment. Fowler hired about 36 employees laid off from United Pipe, a chain that closed its locations in April.
Looking ahead, the economy seems to be gaining steam, subcontractors say.
There seems to be more work to bid and some pretty nice projects to come out still, Frisbee says. It appears that this next year will be better.
Subdivisions that were shelved in the past few years are back on track, and a local sand and gravel company has hired two estimators, Hayes says.
Were seeing the turf people being a lot more busy, he says.
Stith says private money is beginning to enter the market again, as with the Eighth & Main office/retail building and Jacks Urban Meeting Place construction, both in Downtown Boise.
Those are huge projects for this market, he says.
Sandra Forester: 377-6464