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Rod Moberg, an employee of Olaf Anderson, walks past the new ice arena under construction on the south end of Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Contractors see growth, but need workers in Grand Forks and across N.D.

By John Hageman, The Grand Forks Herald

A humming economy is giving construction contractors plenty of work in Grand Forks and across North Dakota.

But they say the rapid pace of work here is straining the workforce and driving new competition from other contractors, some of them coming from out of the state.

In Grand Forks, there were 72 non-housing construction projects that were valued at more than $100,000 in 2013, according to building permit records provided by the city’s inspections department. That includes large renovation projects like the new Scheels store at Columbia Mall, valued at more than $13 million, and the new Walmart store on Gateway Drive, which was valued at more than $8 million.

And contractors said they expect to be busy again this year, with pending projects at UND and commercial development likely to continue.

Plenty of work

Construction contractors have seen an array of projects become available over the past year across the board, from hotels, hospital additions, new schools and commercial buildings.

Construction Engineers has been the general contractor in a number of major projects over the past year, including several Altru Health System projects and the Icon Sports Center. They’re also building a new school in Grafton, N.D.

“I think this year, with the higher ed and some of the other things we’re seeing, I think the commercial permits are going to be much stronger (than 2013),” said Mike Dunn, business development manager for Construction Engineers. Construction Engineers is the construction manager for the UND Law School expansion project, Dunn said.

He also noted that UND is now constructing the new $124 million building for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and preparing to renovate Wilkerson Hall. While crews are currently preparing the medical school site, the bid for the construction of the actual building itself hasn’t yet been awarded, according to Randy Eken, the associate dean for administration and finance at the medical school.

Related: 10,000 Jobs heading to Baytown, Texas

Out of state

Contractors said the abundant projects available across the state are attracting some competition from out of the state. Some companies that are headquartered elsewhere have set up satellite offices in North Dakota.

One of them is Shingobee Builders, based in Loretto, Minn., which built the Citizens Community Credit Union on 32nd Avenue South in Grand Forks. Shingobee added a Williston office about a year ago, according to Tony Godlewski, the company’s vice president.

“It’s a representation of our stability working within that region,” he said.

Another company doing more work in North Dakota is Kraus-Anderson, which added a Minot office about two years ago. Kraus-Anderson is the general contractor for the Scheels renovation in Grand Forks, according to building permit records.

“Although we’ve done a lot of work in North Dakota, we’ve always managed it from our Bemidji office or our Minneapolis office,” said John Haydon, vice president of marketing and business development. “We want to be there long-term.”

Local contractors said they’ve seen more competition for projects.

“The number of building permits across the state has just increased exponentially, so of course when you see more demand you’re going to see more supply of service providers,” Dunn said. “So we’re seeing folks from all over.”

“It’s a competitive market,” he added.

He also said competition in places like Williston is helping keep project costs at least somewhat in check.

Workers needed

Echoing a theme from employers around the region and state, construction contractors said one of the only things holding them back from doing even more projects is having enough workers.

Trade groups in the Dakotas have come together to try to attract more people to construction careers. The group, Dakota Construction Careers, recently held information events in the Grand Forks area.

“We’re just anticipating all the work that is coming up in the eastern part of the state,” said Jason Ehlert, president of the North Dakota Building and Construction Trades Council. “We’re going to have a huge need for a growing workforce.”

There were 153 construction and extraction job openings in the Grand Forks region in April, according to Job Service North Dakota. That’s up from 62 during the same month last year.

Ehlert said part of their campaign is to emphasize construction jobs can lead to long-term careers.

“There’s many construction positions that it doesn’t look like for the next four to 10 years that we’re going to be slowing down,” he said.


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