Published: June 25, 2024 | Updated: June 24, 2024

North Idaho experiencing building boom, seeking workers to keep up

Construction on Front Ave. in downtown Coeur d'Alene.

Construction on Front Ave. in downtown Coeur d'Alene.

Building in both Coeur d’Alene and Spokane, Dan Olson of Daniel J. Olson Construction has found that many of the construction workforce he knew in the industry decades ago are retiring. His worry as a company owner is the inflation rate has made the previous industry of paying a slightly above minimum wage to learn their trade a much more daunting task than it was 20 years ago.

“It’s a double-edged sword. There’s a labor shortage for qualified people, which in turn, the ones who aren’t working are demanding higher wages and I don’t blame them, they deserve it, but that adds to the inflation. It’s not the same number of younger folks coming in to take their place,” Olson said.

The May report from the Coeur d’Alene Regional Realtors found the median price of a single-family home in Kootenai County recently rose to $525,000, up slightly from a year ago.

Construction workers throughout Idaho and nationally are in high demand. In 2023, Idaho had approximately 7,200 construction postings statewide (compared to 9,400 in 2021 and 2,200 in 2018).

Lisa Grigg of the Idaho Department of Labor noted construction employment within the Coeur d’Alene metropolitan area was over 7,000 for the second consecutive year and is at its highest level since 1990 in 2023 (as far back as records are available). 

Statistics from the Idaho Department of Labor over the last two years indicate North Idaho construction data from Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai and Shoshone counties has seen an increase in construction employment above the ability to meet all of the job postings in the area.

From 2021-2023, North Idaho construction employment added nearly 900 positions over two years with an increase of about 100 active employer accounts, something Grigg pointed out is more than any other region in the two-year time period. 

Construction employment neared 6,000 in 2007 prior to the housing recession before dropping to under 4,000 from 2009-2013.

One of the trends Olson is seeing on the ground is more and more multi-family complexes built in the area.

“Because of the cost and land demand, we’re seeing smaller lots for single families. They’re building codes for the homes at the minimum level which means houses are not nearly as well put together as they were a few years ago,” Olson said.

These “competitive building codes” are changing priorities in order to offset the rising cost of building materials.

“The cost of land has skyrocketed so in order to make it affordable they have to take it out of the house because the land is unforgiving,” Olson said.

One recent example of the costs outstripping old housing values came when Olson’s company was working on a secondary family set of quarters on a property and the quote came in nearly $100,000 over what it would have cost to build three years ago, making the ever-rising cost hard to predict.

“If it keeps doing what it has been doing for the last three-four years, housing will become unaffordable,” Olson said. 

In 2020, the Coeur d’Alene metropolitan area finally surpassed the 2007 construction industry employment levels with over 6,100 employed and has been consistently gaining around 300 jobs per year, ending 2023 with an average employment of 7,300. 

The most recent monthly data through April 2024 shows an estimated 7,700 construction jobs in the region (600 higher than the 7,100 in April 2023 and the highest on record for any month).