Exec predicts two-year construction boom


Spectrum Health Integrated Care Center was one project Erhardt Construction completed for 2017. The company has a backlog going to 2019. Courtesy Erhardt Construction

The construction boom still has a couple years left on it, based on Ben Wickstrom’s predictions. The president of Erhardt Construction said his company has a steady supply of work going to 2018 and even 2019.

One major concern for the industry in 2017 was a shortage of skilled labor, and Wickstrom said he expects the same trend for the coming year, although Erhardt and other area contractors have collaborated with Associated Builders and Contractors West Michigan Chapter to create solutions to the shortage.

“We don’t take on work that we can’t staff,” Wickstrom said of his company. “(The shortage is) still there — probably will continue to be there.”

Previously, the Business Journal reported on a specific initiative by ABC/WMC to train refugees and place them in skilled positions with ABC/WMC affiliates. Kerkstra Precast Inc. and Windemuller Inc. are two area contractors that have taken advantage of the program to fill their labor force.

Wickstrom said most of his personal work in collaboration with ABC/WMC has been on workforce development. He added workforce development has been a top priority for the industry for the past several years.

Erhardt, in collaboration with ABC/WMC, has worked with Grand Rapids Community College to develop training programs for the skilled trades. The company also is starting to branch out into Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“Really what we talk about is career pathways in our industry,” Wickstrom said. “It’s about raising the awareness of good careers in the industry at every level. It’s not all about finding skilled workers — though that’s a big part of it — but opportunities for growth in great careers.”

In spite of a tight labor market, the construction industry in 2017 has enjoyed a high demand for new projects. Wickstrom said the amount of construction spending, in West Michigan at least, is back to pre-recession numbers.

“Certainly, there’s a lot of work out there,” he said. “It’s a good market, and I think you can definitely see that in growth around town.”

Wickstrom said his company has high optimism for next year, and even into 2019. The company has a work schedule that will keep them busy for the next two years, as well as the capacity to take on more.

Wickstrom added his prediction is based not on indicators in construction, but in the overall economy. The manufacturing and architecture industries are two indicators in particular he said he keeps an eye on.

“Manufacturing is such a big part of the economy … architecture is a good opportunity,” he said. “The first signal to me would be architects that slow down. As long as they stay busy designing, we’ll stay busy building.”

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