Business

Lack of workers, not materials, slows Boise building, execs say

Keith Jones, owner of Datum Construction, left, and Jason White, vice president or White-Leasure Development Co., talk about the Rite Aide that was under construction near the intersection of Victory and Eagle near Meridian in May.
Keith Jones, owner of Datum Construction, left, and Jason White, vice president or White-Leasure Development Co., talk about the Rite Aide that was under construction near the intersection of Victory and Eagle near Meridian in May. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

A shortage of workers — and to a lesser extent, a shortage in building materials — has changed the way Meridian’s Datum Construction tackles building projects.

In the past, Datum owner Keith Jones said he could order materials as subcontractor crews made progress on the pharmacies, restaurants and other commercial buildings Datum builds in the Valley. Now, he said, suppliers are struggling with their inventories, especially for steel and concrete. He said suppliers promising to deliver materials in two to six weeks instead deliver in six or seven.

“Now, I map out all of my materials deliveries, and then I start,” Jones said.

We see (materials) shortages here and there. The labor shortage is a larger issue.

Brett Myron, Petra Inc. Idaho vice president

Boise Library Director Kevin Booe said this week that work on the Bown Crossing branch came to a halt because the general contractor for the project, Boise’s CM Co., was awaiting a crane and construction materials, including steel girders. CM did not return a call seeking comment.

But contractors who build commercial buildings say that a shortage of skilled workers — and not materials or equipment — presents the bigger headache.

Meridian’s Petra Inc., which will soon have offices in four states when an office in Denver opens, has had few problems securing materials, Idaho Vice President Brett Myron said. Sheet metal was in short supply in previous months because of a tariff on Chinese steel, but that problem is past, Myron said.

The lack of subcontractors persists. That has been a problem in the Valley since workers left construction or moved away for work during the Great Recession.

“If you fall behind, you won’t be able to catch back up,” Myron said.

Wayne Hammon, CEO of Idaho Associated General Contractors, a trade association in Boise that includes commercial builders, said he polled five association members about logistics problems.

“Nobody reported any kind of materials shortage, just labor” he said. “People are having a hard time finding people.”

He said a local concrete supplier is working overtime to keep up with increasing demand, and a local asphalt supplier is running at full capacity, which is typical during construction season.

Jones said Datum hasn’t missed a completion date. Myron said Petra hasn’t either.

“We can manage our way through, as opposed to dealing with issues as they come,” Jones said. “It’s the difference between management and crisis management.”

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