If multiple industry forecasts are correct, contractors and specialty contractors can expect 2019 to look much the same as 2018 in terms of availability of work, materials prices and the headaches that come with meeting tight schedules in the face of ongoing workforce challenges.

“As of July, there were a record-setting 6.94 million job openings in the United States, and construction unemployment reached a low of 3.6% in October,” said Anirban Basu, chief economist with the Associated Builders and Contractors, in a recent report.

“The national, regional and local markets continue to be strong and look very healthy in 2019. The ABC Backlog Indicator expanded to a record 9.9 months, up 12.2% from the first quarter and up 14% compared to the same time last year,” says Doug Carlson, president and CEO of ABC’s Rocky Mountain Chapter in Denver. 

“A key concern in 2019 is the continued workforce shortage we have in the industry. Nationwide, our industry needs nearly 500,000 workers, and most of our members could hire 20 to 30 people today,” he says.

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Construction demand is being fueled by continued strong population growth across the Mountain West, although that’s expected to slow in 2019 in some areas. Still, the Colorado State Demography Office projects a net in-migration of 50,000 people next year.

“Utah’s projected growth in the next decade will see more infrastructure, commercial and housing projects needed. With growth comes challenges to sustain that growth like workforce shortages, affordable housing shortages, infrastructure funding,” says Chris DeHerrera, president and CEO of ABC Utah.

Most commercial and industrial market sectors will continue to grow in the region’s major cities like Boise, Denver and Salt Lake City.

“In general, the market will be strong in 2019 and heading into 2020 because of work underway, funded or planned,” says Willis Wiedel, president of Encore Electric, Lakewood, Colo. “Customer groups like the public sector, health care and technology will continue to be strong; however, indicators of a recession are becoming more prevalent, and I believe that will impact the market more in 2021.”

ABC’s Basu warns that “contractors should be aware that recessions often follow within two years of peak confidence. The average contractor is likely to be quite busy in 2019, but beyond that, the outlook is quite murky.”