CLARKSBURG — Just a few years ago, West Virginia ranked last in the nation for construction employment.
The state actually ranked lower than last, coming in at No. 51 behind Washington, D.C., according to Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia.
“The last four or five years were a very difficult time for West Virginia construction companies,” he said. “It was a very difficult time for people to make a living working. We went over a year being rock bottom in the country.”
During those lean years, many West Virginia construction companies were crossing state lines to take jobs, Clowser said.
“Because of the lack of development in the state, because of the reduced amount of dollars available to the West Virginia (Division) of Highways, a lot of our members were going out of state,” he said. “They were bidding in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland just to keep their employees working.”
But now — thanks to increased construction activity related to the oil and gas industry, coal industry and projects stemming from Gov. Jim Justice’s “Roads to Prosperity” campaign — West Virginia leads the nation in construction employment, Clowser said.
“To look at where we are today — versus where we were two, three, four years ago — is a remarkable turnaround,” he said.
A large part of that turnaround can be attributed to the construction activity resulting from the “Roads to Prosperity” campaign, Justice’s $2.8 billion statewide road repair initiative, Clowser said.
“With the amount of work that the West Virginia Division of Highways (is) putting out, those companies are now coming home and bidding in West Virginia,” he said. “They are bringing their West Virginia workers back home to work on West Virginia projects.”
Another factor contributing to the uptick comes from the multiple natural gas pipeline projects underway in the state, Clowser said.
“A number of our members are working in the oil and gas industry,” he said. “If you put in a well site, you’ve got to have a pad. You’ve got to have a road and you’ve to have water lines into it.”
Other firms are seeing increased activity in the coal industry, Clowser said.
“For the first time in a number of years, our guys are going back into coal,” he said. “They are starting to get back to work; they’re doing some mine faceups and working on some coal-haul roads.”
While the state’s construction industry as a whole has greatly improved in the past few years, the majority of the growth revolves around North Central West Virginia, Clowser said.
“With the hospitals, office buildings, retail and educational facilities in between Clarksburg and Morgantown, our members have been busy,” he said. “They’re actually looking for workers.”
Jamie Ridgeway, vice president of March-Westin, a Morgantown-based construction firm that handles projects throughout the state, said his company has benefited from the ongoing construction boom.
“We’ve been very busy for the past couple of years,” he said. “And it looks like that will be continuing for the foreseeable future.”
March-Westin is looking to hire additional skilled workers, Ridgeway said.
“We’re actively looking for people,” he said. “I would say that the labor pool has tightened with the growth of jobs over the last year. We’ve still been able to find and hire some talented folks, but there are fewer of them available at this point.”
Thanks largely to the promise of more road work through “Roads to Prosperity,” West Virginia’s construction industry is expected to continue to remain healthy and robust for years to come, Clowser said.
“The roads segment of the industry will be sustainable for another three to five to six years,” he said. “That’s going to be ongoing work that’s there year in and year out.”
The roads projects will hopefully lead to further new construction projects down the line, Clowser said.
“If we have good highways and we have a good transportation system, it can bring in other industries to the state,” he said. “That will create jobs and will create construction jobs because we’ll have to build them facilities or expand faculties.”
Original story: WV NEWS