ENTERPRISE — The construction business is making progress in Wallowa County, despite difficulties in various aspects of it, contractors say.

Labor and materials seem to be the top areas of concern to those interviewed.

“Our biggest issue is labor. It’s really hard to find, especially young people who want to work or anybody with experience,” said Charlie Kissinger, the semi-retired owner of Charlie Kissinger Construction. “Around here, there’s a lot of construction going on so the guys we have are spread pretty thin. I know it’s a problem everywhere.”

“It’s pretty tough (finding workers),” son Josh Kissinger said.

The younger Kissinger manages the day-to-day operations.

“I got pretty lucky,” Josh Kissinger said. “I’ve got some pretty good people now.”

Amy Wellens, co-owner with husband, Keith, of Wellens General Contractor, agreed labor can be a problem.

“That is true. It’s unfortunate, even with the young kids coming out of school, there are so many opportunities for subcontractors,” she said, adding that there seems to be a shortage of training of young people in construction-related skills. “There’s tons of money to be made. Those skill sets are going to be lost.”

Wellens said her company, although based in the county and employing people here, doesn’t do a lot of work in Wallowa County. Their jobs are mostly in La Grande, Pendleton, Lewiston and Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Washington. She said the company prefers to work in the county, but most of their work takes them outside.

She did say about 90% of her employees are in the county.

Everyone agreed that the cost of materials and their availability really puts a hitch in things.

Kathy Bohms, office manager for the Joseph-based Chris Borgerding Contracting, said workers haven’t really been a problem for them.

“Chris has stayed busy during the pandemic,” she said. “He hasn’t had issue getting or retaining workers.

She said the company is booked through 2022 with houses to construct.

But materials often produce a challenge.

“His issue was cost of materials and production times that slowed him down,” she said. “During the pandemic, construction materials have taken quite a hit in term of cost. It’s risen four times since first of the year. Truss production has been delayed 16-18 weeks. That really affects a contractor’s building schedule when he can’t get a product.”

Other specific materials also have been a problem.

“Windows and the cost of metal have gone up,” she said. “We just got another notice that it’s going up first of month.”

Wood, too, particularly plywood, is expensive. She said one sheet of plywood was $20 at the end of 2020. Now it’s up to $75.

“It’s started to come back down, but it did slow the construction industry when prices shot up.”

The Kissingers agreed.

“It’s all over the place; it’s been up and down. It’s really volatile right now,” Charlie Kissinger said of materials costs.

He’s heard different reasons for the expense of windows.

“They say it’s because of the glass, but I don’t know the answer to that,” he said.

Josh Kissinger said materials such as plywood with glue or resin are up considerably. He said such materials can be up 50% to 300%, but it differs.

“It’s not like every building material went up ‘X’ amount,” he said. “That’s kind of a tough one (to calculate).”

But all the contractors interviewed said they’re keeping busy. The Kissingers currently are in various stages with three different projects, and Wellens is winding up a variety of two-year contracts around the region.

“People seem willing to build even with the cost of materials being outrageous right now,” Charlie Kissinger said. “There are a lot of people wanting to build.”

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