Originally published Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 07:48p.m.

The backlog of construction projects in Yavapai County continues to grow as area builders grapple with a hangover from the Great Recession -- finding enough skilled workers.

In Prescott and Prescott Valley, where the pace of building activity has quickened since the start of the year, the labor shortage may be even more pronounced. Many quad city area builders report that while business is booming again, not being able to find enough qualified workers is keeping them from shifting into high gear.

Anessa Andrews, development and construction manager for Fain Signature Group, said the labor shortage “has been an issue” in trying to keep the company’s high-profile Talking Glass project in Prescott Valley on schedule.

“Our local labor force is pretty scarce right now,” Andrews said this week. “In order to stay on track, we’ve had to hire people from out of town.”

Meghan McAnally, co-owner of Terra Sole Outdoor Design, a landscaping company based in Prescott, is offering jobs starting at $14 an hour that come with full medical and dental benefits. “We’re expanding pretty rapidly right now,” McAnally said, adding her company currently has a two year backlog of commercial projects.

“We need to hire 60 to 100 more workers right now,” McAnally said. “But we just can’t find enough qualified people in northern Arizona.”

Yavapai College is responding to the local labor crunch by launching its first construction class – Basic Carpentry 1. Associate Dean Dr. Karla Phillips told the college’s board of governors at their monthly meeting last week the college will soon “have eight students engaging with local contractors who will be actively involved in tuition, job shadowing and paid internships.”

The incentive for area students to learn a trade has never been greater. Carpenters and other tradesmen are in high demand around Yavapai County – and are commanding higher and higher pay.

Sandy Griffis, executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA), said that while her industry is finally emerging from a “severe downturn that began more than nine years ago,” many local builders remain frustrated, unable to find enough hands to put hammers in.

Griffis warned this week the labor shortage is impacting all types of projects. “If you’re a homeowner and are needing a deck built, you had better be prepared to wait,” she said. “The labor shortage is not changing. It is what it is.”

In response to the ongoing labor crunch, the YCCA recently initiated a new training project funded by a $15,000 grant from United Way. The three-week “boot camp,” scheduled to begin in January 2019, will offer underemployed or unemployed area residents between the ages of 18 and 24 a chance to learn construction- and trade-related skills — and build their resumes.

Griffis said the boot camp training, which will be tuition-free, will be geared to a “millennial perspective,” with each participant afforded the opportunity to see “how the construction industry might fit with their individual talents and needs.”

The latest U.S. jobs report, released in early September, showed the construction industry has the highest rate of unfilled job vacancies of any major employment category. According to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from April through June 2018, there were nearly two construction job openings for every job seeker.

Experts blame the construction worker shortage on two main factors: older workers aging out of the workforce are not being replaced by an equal number of younger workers and the lingering impacts of the 2008 financial crisis, which spurred the Great Recession and brought the U.S. construction industry to a virtual standstill.

According to U.S. employment data, between 2007 and 2011, the nation’s construction industry shed more than 2.2 million jobs. Although the most recent employment reports show construction job hires ramping up again, nearly half of the more than two million jobs lost during the Great Recession have yet to come back.

Neal Klein, owner of Neil Klein Homes, calls the labor shortage “terrible. It’s raised the price of everything,” he said.

Klein said that because many local subcontractors can’t find enough help “in order to hire anyone, they have to raise their prices” – a cost, Klein said, that ultimately has to be passed on to the consumer.

Carpenters in the quad-city area are now commanding at least $25 an hour, Klein said. “In Phoenix, they’re getting $30 to $40,” he added. “Plumbers and drywallers too.”

“It seems like none of the young kids want to get into this kind of work anymore,” Klein added. “I think they all want to be the next Bill Gates.”

Klein started building homes in the Prescott area in 1971 and has been active more recently in the Prescott Valley and Verde Valley areas too, building more than 3,500 homes over the past four decades. Today, he’s in the process of winding his business down and preparing for retirement.

“It’s been a lot of fun seeing the area grow and being involved in this business,” he said. “But it’s really a shame what’s happening with labor. Twenty years from now if you need a plumber, good luck finding one,” Klein said, only half-jokingly. “The way things are right now, there probably won’t be anyone left who wants to do the job.”