Editor's note: The above video is a report on major road construction projects planned amid rapid growth in the West Plains area.
SPOKANE, Wash. — An analysis released on Tuesday by the Associated General Contractors of America says the Spokane-Spokane Valley metro area had the third-fastest growing construction job market in the country over a year.
The association tracks 358 metropolitan areas throughout the United States.
The metro area added 2,600 new construction jobs between May 2018 and May 2019, an 18% percent increase, according to AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr.
Right now, there are 17,200 people working in construction in the Spokane area compared to 10,100 workers during a post-recession low in May 2011, according to AGC.
The increase in jobs comes amid rapid growth for the Spokane area, particularly in the West Plains.
County planners are beginning work on a major road project to improve Geiger Boulevard. The project includes constructing roundabouts, widening the road for center turn lanes, extending shoulders, installing water and sewer systems, and adding lights.
The road improvements are meant to address economic growth in the area, namely the thousands expected to move to the region after the Amazon fulfillment facility is built. An Amazon spokesperson said they expect to create more than 1,500 jobs.
An electric sports car company’s plant expected to come to the West Plains could also bring 3,000 jobs to Spokane County.
The West Plains Airport Area Public Development Authority and Mullen Technologies, Inc. of Brea, California, announced in April that they signed a letter of intent to build the 1.3 million square-feet of office and manufacturing space to develop Qiantu K50.
In November 2018, Avista Corp. chief economist Grant Fortsyth said the Inland Northwest’s regional economy is the driving force behind newcomers in the area.
Forsyth estimated that nearly 15,000 more residents could move to the greater Spokane-Kootenai metro area in 2019.
Despite the growth in construction jobs, Sandherr says firms are having a difficult time finding qualified workers.
“That is significant, because workforce shortages have the potential to undermine broader economic growth by, among other impacts, slowing construction schedules,” Sandherr said.
“Unless we can find a way to encourage more young adults to pursue high-paying careers in construction, contractors in Washington and across the country will face significant workforce shortages,” he added.
Other nearby areas also added construction jobs during the past year, including Coeur d’Alene and Yakima.
Coeur d’Alene added 300 construction jobs from May 2018 to 2019, adding up to a 5% increase, according to the report. It is ranked at No. 104 in the country in terms of construction employment growth.
Yakima also added 300 jobs in the same period, adding up to a 7% increase. It is ranked No. 52 among the 58 metro areas.
Nearly 249 out of the 358 metro areas added construction jobs during the past year, according to AGC.
Sandherr noted that construction employment is expanding at a time when many older workers are retiring and too few young adults are considering construction careers.
In response to the shortage of workers, the association has released its Workforce Development Plan, which outlines a series of steps federal officials should take to make it easier to establish construction training programs.
The plan calls for doubling federal funding for career and technical education programs over the next five years, while also calling for comprehensive immigration reform that allows more people with construction skills to enter the country legally.
Snadherr said the association is also working to recruit more young adults in construction. The association recently launched a targeted digital advertising campaign in fast-growing metro areas.
He added that the association’s local chapter, the Inland Northwest AGC, is taking a range of steps to address workforce changes.