Eastern Idaho residential construction sees banner year

Workers from Top Line Framing Inc., of Rigby, work on a house near outside Idaho Falls, near Sandy Downs, on Monday afternoon. Platinum Construction is building the home. Taylor Carpenter /

In an average year, Cody Fresh builds five to 10 custom homes spanning the region, from Island Park to American Falls.

The owner of Idaho Falls-based Platinum Construction said by the time 2016 is done, he’ll have built 15. Demand is high enough this year that Fresh hasn’t traveled far to fill his time — all his projects are located in the Idaho Falls area.

“This is by far the busiest we’ve ever been,” said Fresh, who founded his company a decade ago and specializes in homes that sell for $350,000 to $600,000.

Fresh isn’t alone. Homebuilders across eastern Idaho are doing more business this year than they have since before the economic downturn. Construction employment figures are growing steadily, though remainshort of their pre-recession highs.

Local homebuilders report long wait times for subcontractors, such as electricians and plumbers, who are running from job to job. The delays mean a home that used to take five or six months to complete now requires seven or eight, Fresh said.

Through November, the city of Idaho Falls had approved 255 home construction permits — the most since 2007, when 312 were issued for the year.

The growth is especially visible on the southern edge of the city, where several new subdivisions have taken the place of farm fields. In the Avalon development, by Rockwell Homes, a dozen concrete foundations were ready for framing on one street last month, with other homes throughout the community in various stages of completion.

Bonneville County approved 284 permits through October. That’s the most in several years — but well short of the 500 annually that were approved in the years leading up to the recession, said Steve Serr, a Bonneville County planning and zoning administrator. Much of the growth is around Iona, he said.

Ammon approved 73 permits through October, the most in at least five years, said Building Official Charles Allen. Through all of 2015, the city approved 57.

In Rexburg, 54 home permits were approved so far this year, similar to 2014 but down from 98 last year. Due to its surging college student population, the Rexburg market has been focused on adding apartments, not single-family homes, said Porter Wilkins, a city permit technician. Some 21 apartment project permits have been issued in the city so far this year, ranging in size from four-plexes to 75 units, he said. For comparison, Idaho Falls issued six apartment permits.

Data provided by the Idaho Department of Labor shows nearly 3,000 eastern Idaho workers were employed in June in the residential construction industry — about 300 more than two years ago. The industry’s growth in the region has been cautionary and steady, said Regional Economist Hope Morrow.

“Even though we haven’t reached pre-recession employment, we’re going about it in a smarter way,” she said.

Statewide, nearly 28,000 workers are now in the residential construction business, making up 3.8 percent of all employed Idaho workers, according to the National Association of Home Builders. That’s the second highest percentage of residential construction workers in the nation, following Montana’s 4.4 percent.

Some regional new home growth can be attributed to an increasing number of well-off retirees moving into the area, Morrow said. Those 65 and older continue to far outpace other age groups moving into the greater Idaho Falls area, she said.

But some can simply be tied to a healthy economy, as people feel comfortable financially graduating to a new and larger home. “They’re moving into their dream home,” Fresh said.

Fresh said he expects 2017 to be another healthy year, though rising interest rates could discourage some would-be customers. Whatever the case, 2016 has been a banner year, no matter what you do in the eastern Idaho housing construction industry.

“This year, everybody’s clicking,” he said

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth