Construction companies struggle amid severe slowdown
April 26, 2009
Steamboat Springs — For a few years, construction jobs seemed to grow on trees in Steamboat Springs – right next to abundant building projects. Workers were busy. Companies were busy.
A.J. Gale says that slammed to a halt in November. Now, as the summer construction season approaches, some workers are scrambling for jobs, and some companies are scrambling for projects. Both are scarce, Gale said.
He owns AJ Gale Builders, and he’s starting a company called Steamboat Decks and Remodels. It’s a smaller name for smaller projects, Gale said.
“Right now, we don’t turn down jobs,” he said. “If you wanted me to come over and build you a receptacle for your trash, I’d be there tomorrow.”
Gale used to have 12 employees, he said. He’s down to just one.
“It seems like a really big, scary waiting game now,” Gale said. “I’ve got a little stuff like bathroom remodels. I’m just eking by.”
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He also has two children, ages 1 and 3, and a wife who depend on him. Gale moved to Steamboat in 2006 and has worked in construction for 22 years.
“Right at the beginning of November, I’ve never seen the brakes fly on like that ever,” he said.
But Gale actually might be one of the luckier ones in the construction world: He has some work. Bo Miller, of Hayden, has been in construction for more than 35 years, as a site superintendent for the past 25. He said Fox Construction laid him off about five weeks ago.
Miller said he’d sent out more than 40 resumes without getting a single call.
“There just are no jobs out there right now,” he said. “It’s bleak. I mean, it’s just no new work starting, that’s the problem. Of course, we’re in mud season here. It’s going to take a little while for stuff to settle down here.”
Like Gale, Miller said this tough of a downturn was unheard of. He said he’s always been able to get construction work.
“I have never in my whole career seen it like this,” Miller said.
He said he’s applied for jobs along the Interstate 70 corridor and as far away as Denver. He doesn’t want to leave the Yampa Valley, but he’ll move temporarily if there’s work.
Luckily, Miller said, his wife, Beth, has a good job as a nurse at Yampa Valley Medical Center. They’ve lived in the area since 2003.
“I plan on staying up here if it’s possible,” Bo Miller said. “We may have to relocate. I don’t know. It’s a possibility; it’s something to at least think about. You know, you have to go where the work’s at. But, I mean, my wife and I sure love it in this area, and at all cost, we’re going to try to stay here.”
Miller said he also is considering a career change.
“Back in my youth, I drove a truck for a few years,” he said. “It seems like there’s truck driving jobs available. I was thinking of pursuing that until this construction thing breaks. Eventually, there’s going to be jobs.”
Miller said he’d been networking and talking with his construction contacts, but nothing had come through. He’s still trying, however.
Another Hayden resident in the construction industry, Charlie Epp, has gotten by through staying diversified. Epp owns Bear River Builders and C’s Catering. He has a fence-building job starting this week, but other than that, the building side is dead, Epp said.
Catering has kept him going.
“Most of the catering I do is in the winter at the airport for the airlines, and then I do a lot in the summer as far as weddings and meetings, ranch barbecues. : I do the fair barbecue,” Epp said.
Down the road, a bigger contractor is staying busy but doing less volume. TCD is building Hayden’s new police station and has projects planned at Yampa Valley Funeral Home and Lowell Whiteman Primary School, Senior Vice President Tom Perkins said.
The Steamboat-based company has branches in Breckenridge and Fraser. TCD is doing projects in Granby and in the Summit County/Vail/I-70 area, Perkins said.
“I would just say that the entire market is down,” he said.
The company is getting plenty of applications from people like Miller, Perkins said.
“Most of ours come in over the Internet because we are primarily a management company,” he said. “And obviously, with the reduced volume, we haven’t been in a hiring mode here, and we have made some staff reductions.”
Perkins said he didn’t know when things would turn around.
“I don’t think anybody knows,” he said. “I certainly don’t consider myself an authority on the economy, but I think there’s a lot of inventory in the multifamily residential that has to be absorbed in the Steamboat area, as well as most areas. : We’re seeing the same thing in Summit, Winter Park, Vail.”
Things have to turn around eventually, Miller said. He’s trying not to get discouraged in his job search. Miller encouraged other unemployed people to keep their hopes up.
“You just keep plugging away – don’t despair,” he said. “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”