Construction may be making a comeback.
The Montcalm County Building Department has issued 450 permits so far this year, including agricultural, commercial, demolition, industrial and residential work.
That’s 58 fewer permits than last year, but not as steep a decline as several years ago.
This year’s local permits include:
• 260 residential additions or alterations, including garages and pole buildings.
• 52 mobile homes and doublewides.
• 37 single family homes.
• Seven manufactured homes on permanent foundations.
“The past year has been slightly lower than last year, but it seems to have evened off and we are not seeing the constant decline now,” said Building Department Director Scott Minard.
Minard said local construction is holding steady. Housing complaints, condemned properties and vacated or abandoned properties have increased “dramatically” over the past two years, resulting in more work and expense for his department without the income to cover the cost of the complaints.
Mark Lehman, manager of Mission Lumber & Supply west of Lakeview, said local construction is keeping him and his employees busy at their M-46 facility. They recently purchased a new truck for deliveries.
“Things are good,” he said. “I’ve got absolutely no complaints in the construction business. We’re seeing pretty good activity with farmers and there’s a fair amount of remodeling and a little bit of new construction.
“The winter season is around the corner, but we’ve still got some projects in the books,” he added.
Carson City Lumber Co. Manager Gary Copp said business is about the same as last year, but his employees are having to follow contractors out of the area to places like Kalamazoo and Lansing.
“We have fewer new home constructions going this year,” he said. “New house construction has decreased significantly over the past four years. Remodeling is still going strong.”
Copp credits local agriculture-related business for allowing his lumberyard to maintain sales.
“Farmers have not suffered from the economic downturn like other businesses have,” he said. “We’re really blessed to be in a rural area. Farmers have kept us alive. We’re building more pole barns. That has helped us maintain our volume.”
Self-employed and struggling
The picture isn’t all rosy.
Jeff Hunter worked for a Greenville construction company before deciding to become his own boss about a decade ago. He started up Hunter Construction in Otisco Township just outside of Belding.
He said he’s been struggling ever since.
“I have absolutely nothing going on,” he said. “It’s so slow. I think things are going to get worse before they get better.”
Hunter does mostly residential remodels, siding and roofing. He often works in Belding, Lowell and Rockford, sometimes Greenville.
He has only completed one new residence in the past decade — a $196,000 home in Fenwick.
“I’ve been paying the bills,” he said. “I average around $20,000 per year. I wanted to make better money than I was working for somebody else, but it hasn’t happened — not yet anyway.”
However, Hunter said the situation isn’t easy but he doesn’t want to go back to work for a construction company. He prefers to remain self-employed.
“I’m going to keep struggling along and hope things turn around for the better,” he said. “It would be nice to make a living instead of just paying the bills.”
Nationally, construction employers added 26,000 jobs between August and September as the industry’s unemployment rate dropped to 13.3 percent, according to an analysis of new federal employment data released Friday by the Associated General Contractors of America.
Association officials said the increase is the first significant change in construction employment levels since February and reflects growing private sector demand for nonresidential construction projects.
Total national construction employment now stands at 5.55 million, which is a 0.7 percent increase from the 5.51 million construction jobs in September 2010.
Association officials said the bulk of the construction gains came from the nonresidential sector. Nonresidential building construction added 13,200 jobs in September.
At the same time, nonresidential specialty trade contractors added 10,700 jobs and heavy and civil engineering construction added 6,200. Meanwhile, residential building contractors added just 1,800 jobs while residential specialty trade contractors lost 5,600 jobs.
The industry’s 13.3 percent unemployment rate was an improvement from the 17.2 percent rate of a year earlier but far above the national jobless rate of 9.1 percent.