Construction jobs are still in demand in city

Despite U.S. trends, many say Juneau's market is growing

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2008

While construction jobs have hit the skids nationwide, Juneau may be bucking the trend.

Rob Stapleton / Alaska Journal Of Commerce
Rob Stapleton / Alaska Journal Of Commerce

Nationally, there were 43,000 construction jobs lost in June, and nearly half a million jobs were lost in the industry since the number of construction jobs peaked in September 2006, according to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor.

While there was no local data immediately available to compare the national numbers, some in the Juneau construction industry said the hiring atmosphere in town is healthy. Others hedged their optimism.

"We still have a shortage of qualified people," said Alan Wilson, owner of Alaska Renovators.

"As far as construction jobs go, at the current time we're in really great shape," said Mike Notar, president of the Juneau & Vicinity Building and Construction Trades Council.

Juneau economist Gregg Erickson said the state's large tax revenues due to skyrocketing oil prices translate into a large number of public construction projects that help bolster the job market.

Juneau's city government has a number of large construction projects planned in the near future - including an airport renovation and a new downtown parking garage - totaling upwards of $50 million. State money will pay for part of those projects.

The city cited its large number of upcoming construction jobs in a recent lawsuit challenging its labor agreements with various unions. Included in the court records was a memo from the city's former head engineer saying the upcoming workload presented "major and complex challenges" that required finding a "steady supply of competent labor."

Erickson also said the state's flush coffers means it has money to spend on energy rebate programs, such as a $1,200-per-person payout proposed by Gov. Sarah Palin, and incentives for home weatherization projects, which would provide a jolt to the economy and could mean more construction jobs.

But there also are negative signs in Juneau's construction market.

Contractor Robert Hansen, who owns CB General Contractors, said he's had to reduce his workforce by three employees over the last year and called the current residential construction market "soft."

And Notar, who also is the assistant business manager of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, said while things are currently looking good, a souring economy and skyrocketing gas prices may mean trouble down the road.

"If you're not a bit fretful, you're not paying attention," Notar said.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.



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