Homebuilders look for new growth

PARKERSBURG – A sector hit hard by the recession has been construction, but several local officials believe there may be signs of positive growth in 2013.

John Farnsworth, executive officer with the Home Builders Association of the Mid-Ohio Valley, said his members are hearing that nationally, home construction is expected to increase this year. Locally, it’s too early to tell, Farnsworth said. However, the association will hold its annual Great American Home Show from Feb. 8-10 in the Park Shopping Center in Parkersburg.

“We expect to get a better feel when the home show rolls around,” he said.

Bill Hutchinson, business manager of the Parkersburg-Marietta Building and Construction Trades Council, said 2012 saw slight improvement over 2011, which itself had seen some positive growth after a couple of down years with high unemployment for the council and its members.

During 2011, the council saw employment rise to about 75 percent in most crafts, with those related to pipelines and other oil and gas related crafts seeing the most growth. Some additional small improvements were seen during 2012, with more maintenance being done in local plants, an important segment for the council, and a slight upswing in general construction.

“We hope to see more,” he said.

Looking ahead at 2013, Hutchinson hopes continued job growth in the oil and gas industry, the Willow Island hydroelectric project and construction at Kraton Polymers in Belpre will have a positive impact on the jobs picture in the local area.

“It’s looking up, it looks like there might be some improvements this year,” he said.

The trades council represents eight counties in West Virginia and six counties in Ohio with 50 local unions covering the 15 building and construction crafts.

The council works to help local unions in whatever ways it can, from advocacy and political representation to helping with work and negotiations. The council mainly represents two groups. One is the civil crafts, which include laborers, carpenters, bricklayers and others. The other is the mechanical crafts, which include pipefitters, electrical workers, ironworkers, boilermakers, sheet metal workers and others.

Clinton Suggs is executive director of the Parkersburg-Marietta Contractors Assocation, which represents about 50 general and specialty contractors in the commercial and industrial areas and businesses that provide services and supplies to them.

“I think we are cautiously optimistic” looking ahead at 2013, Suggs said.

The association and its members have seen some industrial work coming back, although commercial work remains slow. He said the work in the oil and gas industry is helping some segments of the contstruction business, while others have not seen any benefit or impact.

Suggs said there are a lot of things to keep an eye on which could help or hurt, such as the possibility of a cracker plant in the Parkersburg area.

“It looks like it will be a decent year,” Suggs said, adding things are coming around slowly.

Brian Stanley is president of the Parkersburg Area Labor Council, which works with many different types of crafts and trades in the local area.

Many local unions have members who serve on the council and meet monthly. The council’s primary function is to share information, ideas and support among its members. The council also is involved in the political process from the local to the national level through endorsements and support for various candidates during elections.

The council and many of its members are also involved in the community through service projects and similar activities.

Looking back at the past year, Stanley said 2012 was still a slow year for members, but started to pick up at the end of the year.

“2013 is projected to be a good year for the building and construction trades,” he said.

The regional situation appears like it might be positive, with a lot of upgrades planned in the commercial and industrial areas, especially in terms of energy-efficiency upgrade projects and related programs. Jobs related to the Marcellus shale natural gas drilling also seem to be trending upward.

“The projections I’ve seen, it’s supposed to be a decent year,” Stanley said.

One of the main challenges locally remains advocating for local skilled workers for the jobs in the area where employers bring in non-local labor. For the past couple of years, Stanley said the council has focused on a “local jobs for local workers” campaign, working to convince employers to hire from the local area’s trained and experienced employees for their projects.

A major area of interest is the Marcellus and Utica shales and the council with others have been trying to convince the drilling companies to hire qualified local workers instead of using workers from outside the area, as they have been mostly doing, he said.

“With the influx of the work on the Marcellus shale, that will be the last big boom I think we will see,” Stanley said.