Tudor Van Hampton/ENR
More workers are using hoists for speed and safety.

Temporary rack-and-pinion elevators that move trades up and down are getting high on the list of the most sought-after equipment in an era of booming vertical construction. Plus, an aging workforce needing faster access is pushing costs of replacement and repair to new heights. Prices for permanent elevator equipment are escalating in tandem.

Demand has placed a huge pinch in the private nonresidential building sector, which as of April has grown nearly 16% over last year, according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. Firms that rent hoists are replacing worn-out units and investing in larger fleets. “Our business has increased 15% a year for the last three years,” says Dale Stoddard, president of Houston-based Alimak Hek Inc. “We see no signs of it slowing down.”

Alimak’s Sweden-based owner, which holds about a 50% market share in the U.S., is facing heavier international competition due to its limited production and shipping capacity, which can delay orders as long as 20 weeks. Consolidation also is a contributing factor. Last year, Alimak bought Houston-based Champion Elevators, a popular U.S. brand.

Hoist demand also is being lifted by the industry’s demographics. More workers are aging and retiring but fewer skilled people are coming in. Hoists speed up production and improve safety. “People are utilizing hoists to deliver craft labor at heights on structures they normally would not put hoists on,” says Stoddard. The typical “ceiling” is moving down well below the usual 10-story threshold. “Six stories and above, we are seeing more demand,” Stoddard explains.

As a result, the purchase prices for new construction hoists, which typically range from $200,000 to $500,000, have been inching up a healthy 3% to 5% per year. And rental prices, though varying widely from region to region, are on the rise, too.

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  • “We’ve seen some [rental] markets that have gone up almost 200%,” says Jason Leibeck, president of Metro Hoisting & Erecting Ltd., a rental operator and manufacturer of Avro-brand hoists in Mississauga, Ontario. Regions like the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest are the most expensive, sources say. At a minimum, rates elsewhere are up 10%.

    So far, elevator suppliers have generally been able to keep up with the demand due to an influx of available foreign product. But suppliers are also warning building contractors to be prepared for possible future delays. “The industry generally imagines that this equipment is available at any time,” says Leibeck. “We’re completely sold out.”

    Over the last decade, Metro Hoisting has imported steel masts from China, the world’s largest hoist producer, and overhauled them with modern frequency drives, gearing and safety controls. Initially, selling partially Chinese-made units was a hurdle. But today, Leibeck says, “It’s insane. I can’t keep up.” The units sell at about a 20% discount with an eight-to- 12-week delivery period.

    Other competition is coming from Eastern Europe. “Usually, you need to call either Alimak or Champion, but their production is just maxed out,” says Tami Hamilton, vice president at Beta Max Inc., a Melbourne, Fla.-based manufacturer and distributor. It imports a Czech Republic-made hoist called Pega that it also sells at a discount. “Their lead time is six months and my lead time is two or three months,” Hamilton says, comparing her company to other local suppliers.

    Meanwhile, demand elsewhere in the world has hoist makers like Alimak reaching for loftier production goals. Last November, it opened a factory in Changshu, China, to service a hungry Asian workforce. The need for access is “a global issue,” says Stoddard.