Hawaii's construction industry could soon see turnaround

Hawaii's construction industry could soon see turnaround
Ed Ventula
Ed Ventula
Pearl Imada Iboshi
Pearl Imada Iboshi
Artwork for prospective Kamehameha Schools construction project
Artwork for prospective Kamehameha Schools construction project

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

KALAELOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Waiting for a turnaround - Hawaii's construction industry has taken a big dive this year, losing more than 3,000 jobs from the year before, which was already way down.

So why are industry leaders optimistic? It's because there's something the numbers aren't telling us. What the numbers don't factor in are the new projects in the coming months.

A new report from the Associated General Contractors of America says 14,000 new jobs across the nation were added between March to April. And industry leaders say that boost is expected to eventually reach Hawaii.

"I am a sheet metal journeyman but construction is so slow, that I'm running out of benefits so I have to find an alternative job," said Carol Yamamoto, a construction worker.

Just in time for what may be a turnaround in the industry, Yamamoto is training for a new skill - crane operator.

Her teacher, Ed Ventula expects her foresight to pay off.

"It's been real slow, but this is the time and just prepare yourself and get ready. You don't fix the roof when it's raining," said Ventula.

He points to a surge of new work at Pearl Harbor. Ventula says five new construction contracts were awarded in January, and are getting underway this year.

"Especially in the shipyard where the contractors been awarded to go over the non-nuclear work in the submarine," said Ventula.

But the jobs haven't shown up yet in the state's statistics.

"Haven't really quite turned the corner on a year over year basis. We're still down," said Pearl Imada Iboshi, Deputy Director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT).

Iboshi says the state has lost 10,000 construction jobs since 2007. The industry is down 3,300 jobs in the first quarter of this year versus the first quarter of last year. But there are improvements.

"The value of private building permits has gone up 32% in March but we're still down 16% for the first quarter of the year," said Iboshi.

And here's what the coming boom could look like - a huge modern new middle school in Kapalama. Kamehameha Schools is just a few weeks away from breaking ground on the biggest construction project in its history. It's a $118 million project that could create up to 500 jobs.

And then there's Matson and Young Brothers. Ventula says the companies are planning work on its piers in Honolulu, creating jobs at the end of the year.

Iboshi also says there are state transportation projects still in the wings. They're all opportunities, knocking, and Yamamoto is ready.

"So I can get out there and get employed and some kind of medical benefits," she said.

DBEDT says the state government's construction spending is also up 26% in the first quarter, thanks in part to federal stimulus funding.

In their latest quarterly forecast, University of Hawaii economists say overall construction spending will be 17% lower this year compared to 2009, but will rise more than 4% in 2011.

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