Valley construction driving economic recovery

March 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The economic recovery may be coming slower here in the Valley than it is in other parts of the country. But the latest numbers show some of the surest signs yet that things are turning around, and fast. A rising tide in construction has started to lift all boats when it comes to employment.

"The housing industry's kind of like a catalyst for some of your other major sectors," said Steve Gutierrez, of the Employment Development Department.

The number of construction jobs in Fresno County fell every month for five years -- from December 2006 to December 2011 - according to the EDD. But since January 2012, it's gone nowhere but up.

The pounding taken by the Valley's job market appears to be over, and local construction companies are now laying the foundation for a full recovery.

The construction industry has seen an increase in jobs every month for a year, and although the gains are modest for now, they're a good sign for other industries as well.

"The normal trend is that when housing is going well, that trickles down to your other sectors and those also reap the benefits," Gutierrrez said.

New home sales translate to increasing sales at home improvement stores and other retailers. That can encourage new retail construction, which leads to more new construction jobs. It also creates more work for realtors and contractors.

"When I pick up the phone and call a contractor, sometimes they're a week or two out rather than just an hour or two out," said Don Scordino, a realtor at Realty Concepts in Northwest Fresno.

Fresno County's unemployment figures for 2013 are not available yet, but their housing starts are. They're up 61% in January alone, meaning the Central Valley is finally following the rest of the country into a new housing boom.

"There's a real demand for it," Scordino said. "There is a shortage of inventory of existing loans so really our solution is building."

Driving the construction boost are near record-low mortgage rates and a drop in foreclosures, as well as rising consumer confidence.

One first-time buyer told us she sees it as a chance to jump in before prices start rising too.

"The housing market's pretty affordable right now," said Megan Bremer. "Doing some calculations, I'd actually be paying less with a mortgage than I am in rent. So it just seemed like a great opportunity for me to buy."

No matter how well this recovery goes, many people in real estate and construction don't expect home sales to ever return to the levels they were in 2006.

Back then, there were almost 24,000 construction jobs in Fresno County -- almost twice as many as there are now.


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