State predicts construction boom

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The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is predicting a statewide uptick in employment in the near future, with a construction boom leading the way.

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The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is predicting a statewide uptick in employment in the near future, with a construction boom leading the way.

The report “Employment Forecasts for the Short-Term Future-2017” was released Wednesday. It predicts a statewide increase in overall employment by 2.9 percent, with 20,020 new jobs, and the construction industry leading the economic expansion with a growth rate of 12.1 percent, creating 3,880 new jobs.

The department estimates that statewide job numbers will grow from 700,940 in the first quarter of 2015 to 720,960 in the first quarter of 2017.

DLIR’s short-term projections aren’t broken down by county, but it appears the Big Island will receive its share of the projected construction windfall. A longer-range forecast released last September, DLIR’s “Hawaii County: Employment Projections for Industries and Occupations 2012-2022, projected strong growth in construction trade jobs in the 10-year period.

“Construction and extraction occupations, with approximately 5 percent of the total employment count, will boast the highest growth rate among all the job divisions,” the 2012-2022 report stated. “This increase of 26.8 percent is more than two times higher than the average growth for the county.”

Construction employment on the Big Island in 2022 is projected to be 32.2 percent higher than 2012 totals, a rise from 3,000 to 3,960 workers. Carolyn Loeffler, president of Loeffler Construction, which specializes in grading and paving, and the Hawaii Island Contractors’ Association, said the building boom is already underway.

“Bottom line is, construction is busy,” Loeffler said Thursday. “Everybody’s busy. … I think all of the contractors are active and busy and nobody is stalled. I haven’t heard of anybody laying anyone off or downsizing. … Stuff outside of commercial projects is picking up, too, residential — home construction, home improvements, anything to do with homeowners. The work is there.”

Mark Travalino, Hawaii Island agent for Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 368, agreed.

“There’s quite a lot of civil (infrastructure) work being performed on both sides of the island, as well as renovation work going into our major resorts on the Kona side,” Travalino said.

“As far as new construction, we’re looking at the (Kona) Judiciary Complex, we’re looking at a new skilled nursing project on Kuakini Highway on the Kona side. It’s in the ballpark of a $100 million project.

“There’s the park project in Waimea and the ($5 million Kukuihaele Park improvements) awarded to Isemoto (Contracting Co.). There’s also the Saddle Road project on the Hilo side. And on the Hokulia bypass road, they’re pouring the first concrete on the project (Thursday). It’s a smaller project but it’s empty.”

Travalino said his union’s “bench” — the industry term for workers not currently on a project — is “not quite empty, but it’s as low as it’s been since the last construction boom about eight, 10 years ago.”

“We’re about 2 percent on our bench, which is pretty skinny,” he said. “I believe we have in the ballpark of about 15 apprentices in the field. So we’re putting guys to work right now. And I’m taking a look at the forecast for this year’s public works projects. There’ll be a lot more coming forward, as soon as we find out who’s getting the bid on the Judiciary Complex and the (University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Pharmacy.”

Leslie Isemoto, president of Isemoto Contracting Co., said there’s a current need for more construction workers.

“For me, we are still short of operators, laborers and masons on the island,” Isemoto said.

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“I believe all of the unions have opened up their apprentice program, but I don’t have a great increase in employment. I think it is a shift of labor from one company to another.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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