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Lagging hires in Arizona construction affecting time it takes to build homes

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

PHOENIX — While construction jobs are on the rise across the United States, Arizona isn’t experiencing the same type of increase and that’s having an effect on the time it takes to build houses in the state.

Arizona employed more than 240,000 construction workers at the peak of the housing boom in 2006. Today, there are about 134,000 construction workers employed in the state, according to local economist Rick Merritt, president of Elliott D. Pollack and Company.

Over the past year, Arizona gained about 4,000 construction jobs. Meanwhile, across the country the construction industry is growing substantially. The latest U.S. jobs report found that 58,000 new construction jobs were added to the nation’s economy last month, the most in nearly a decade.

“The biggest complaint we hear from contractors and homebuilders is that there just isn’t enough labor,” Merritt said. “And if we really see a construction boom, particularly in the housing market, the homebuilders are concerned that they won’t be able to keep up with demand.”

Merritt added that because of the construction labor shortage, homebuilders are paying higher wages to recruit and retain workers. As a result, he said it costs more to build houses and often those costs are passed along to buyers.

In addition, because there aren’t enough construction workers in Arizona, houses are taking longer to build. According to RL Brown Housing Reports, which provides housing market research for the Phoenix metropolitan area, it takes an average 181 days to build a house in Maricopa and Pinal counties.

Greg Burger, president of RL Brown Housing Reports, said that’s a slight improvement from last summer, when it took an average 194 days to build a house in the same counties.

“The average build-time has improved approximately seven working days compared to several months ago,” Burger said. “We anticipate that as the economy strengthens and as the labor force increases and construction jobs specifically are brought on here locally, that will in fact help diminish the build-time that we currently are experiencing.”

Burger said the slight decrease in build-time is mostly because contractors and homebuilders are “diligently working to be more efficient in how they’re handling their crews.”

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