Tony Illia/ENR
The $500-million, 64-story Trump Tower Las Vegas topped-out on May 25.

Southern Nevada's building boom has stretched its construction workforce paper-thin, causing contractors to compete for top project managers, engineers and superintendents. Firms are poaching from one another, recruiting out-of-state and paying signing bonuses. Flex hours, company vehicles, and tuition fees are now standard employment package components.

"Nevada's job growth has been running three to four times the national average in the past several years," says Terry Johnson, director of the state Dept. of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation (DETR). "Businesses are adding jobs at a staggering rate." The construction industry is expected to grow by about 10,000 jobs in 2007, including positions for heavy-equipment operators, carpenters, electricians and other craftsmen, DETR reports.

"More than 110,000 Southern Nevadans are employed in construction trades and nearly 150,000 Nevadans are employed by construction businesses statewide," says Steve Hill, president of Silver State Materials and chairman of the Southern Nevada Coalition for Fairness in Construction. "It is important that we as a group consider not only how the economy impacts our industry but also how our industry impacts the economy."

Slideshow:
  • Viva Las Vegas: Bird'e Eye View of a Building Boom
  • Much of the construction demand is occurring along the Las Vegas Strip, a union stronghold, with roughly $22.84 billion worth of hotel, casino and convention construction planned through 2010, reports the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. Constructioin includes 31,071 hotel rooms, 724 timeshare units and 2.2 million-sq-ft of convention space. Another $15 billion in tentative projects, adding 50,452 more hotel rooms, is planned as well.

    No job is larger than MGM Mirage's Project CityCenter -- a $7.4-billion, 18.67-million-sq-ft hotel/condo/entertainment complex being built on the Strip between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts. The general contractor, Phoenix-based Perini Building Co., will employ up to 7,000 people during the peak of activity or one-third of Southern Nevada's total union trade workforce, says Perini Chairman Richard Rizzo.

    Perini hires headhunters to find construction managers and superintendents nationwide, paying signing bonuses, housing assistance and moving expenses. CityCenter, which isn't scheduled to finish until November 2009, has ratcheted the competitiveness and pay level among local firms higher.

    "There are craftsmen making $90,000 to $100,000-a-year with overtime, and project managers earning up to $250,000 annually," says Robert Potter, chairman of Affordable Concepts, a local builder, and 2007 president of Associated General Contractors, Las Vegas chapter. "I won't announce recent hires in the paper anymore because it's advertising for my competitors to come and steal them."

    The carpenters union now has roughly 9,700 members in Las Vegas -- its largest size ever, says Marc Furman, senior administrative assistant for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents Nevada. His union has seen a 300% growth in membership since 1996, he says. The union currently is recruiting nationally to ramp up its workforce to meet the valley's construction demands. Although it recorded a record 11.8 million man hours last year, it expects to see about a 10% growth in 2007, Furman adds.

    "It's mostly the guys from the Rust Belt states like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin that are migrating here," Furman says. "We have national reciprocity that allows members to move back and forth without being penalized."

    Out-of-state additions have pushed local union membership to record numbers. "We increased our membership by about 1,100 people last year," says Tommy White, secretary-treasurer for the Laborers' Local 872, which represents over 4,400 members in Clark County. "We're projecting to add up to 2,000 more members in 2007."

    The Laborers chartered a new local in response to the union's growth called Local 702, addressing off-Strip light commercial and residential work. It has been adding roughly 30 members a month, White claims.

    The boom has certainly made construction a major force in Southern Nevada’s economy, accounting for just over 12% of the region's workforce or twice the national average.

    “It’s inextricably linked to the state's economic and fiscal successes during the past two decades,” says Jeremy Aguero, principal of Applied Analysis, a Las Vegas-based economic research firm. “Construction generated $643-million in tax payments during the past fiscal year, second only to Nevada's leisure-and-hospitality industry."