Construction slowly makes a comeback in Haywood

HCC preps students for careers in construction
By DeeAnna Haney | Oct 07, 2013
Nic Carrillo, Will Ledford and Jordan Zarczynski work on the roof of a student built house.

When the economy took a nosedive and the nationwide recession took its toll, the construction industry was one of the hardest hit. But local statistics for the year so far are a glimmer of hope for what's to come for some contractors.

The construction industry took a turn for the worse when the recession hit Haywood County in 2008, said John Mark Roberts, a local contractor and building construction technology instructor at Haywood Community College.

“Nationwide you started hearing about economic recovery in 2011, but with Haywood being behind the rest of the nation, we didn’t start seeing recovery until 2013,” Roberts said.

Recent numbers show that residential building permits are up 75.8 percent in Haywood County compared to this time last year, according to a report from The Market Edge, LLC. Haywood County issued 58 building permits during the first two quarters of this year compared to 33 during the same time last year.

“There is a huge discussion about whether construction is coming back,” Roberts said. “It’s a fact that there’s more construction going on when you look at the number of permits pulled.”

Most of those permits are for remodeling projects, middle-income homes and starter homes rather than the high-end homes that were popular between 2006 and 2008. But for contractors who have been desperate for work, that is good news.

Joseph Massie, a contractor with Benchmark Builders in Waynesville and vice president of the local chapter of the Homebuilder’s Association, described the past few years in the industry as “horrible.”

In order to stay afloat, his company took on more remodeling and home improvement jobs.

“We had to pull back and streamline and really focus on the experience we had with remodeling. If we hadn’t done that, we would probably be where a lot of other construction workers are now which is in between houses,” he said.

Now that more people are starting to build, his company is booked through the winter.

“At the beginning of the year I was talking to three people about new home construction, which is a total 180-degree turn from where we were just a year ago when we were talking to no one about that,” Massie said.

Still a viable degree

Despite the bleak outlook of construction jobs during the past five years, students have continued to enroll in HCC’s two-year construction program, a degree that Roberts says is still viable.

Though it’s difficult to say just how the construction industry will pan out in the coming years, Roberts said one thing holds true: there will always be a demand for construction.

“There’s always going to be a need for trades like carpentry and construction,” he said.

Roberts’ students take a wide variety of classes to help teach them the basic skills that will get them hired. Aside from a variety of carpentry classes, students also learn plumbing, electric, blueprint reading, masonry, planning and estimating and soils and site work.

Students are not only learning the basics of their trade, but also the sustainable building techniques that have become an industry standard rather than just a trend.

They are also required to complete several hands-on projects in many of those classes. One such project was a student built research home on campus, which was a government funded research project.

Another project is a one-bedroom, one-bathroom home in the Jonathan Creek area. The student-built home will be a part of Bethel Village, a community of affordable housing funded by Camp Bethel, Inc. Last week, students were busy on the job site.

“We are trying to get them to where they are entry level construction employees who can get somewhere quicker than someone who doesn’t have a degree. If they go to a job site and their boss tells them to felt a roof, they will be able to do it because they’ve done it four or five times in class,” Roberts said.

Jordan Zarczynski, 20, who was nailing felt underlay to the roof Wednesday, said he has always been interested in hands-on work and helping his dad with projects around the house. So when he looked through the thick course offerings book at HCC, construction was the best choice for him.

“At first I didn’t know anything,” he said. “We started with the basics like cutting a 2-by-4 with a table saw.”

Now that he’s nearing the completion of his degree, he says he’s confident in his skills and expects to be more than ready for work when he graduates.

Zarczynski plans to work for a contractor for five to 10 years and hopes to later start his

He believes that the downturn in the industry may even help him in the long run.

“The construction industry may be down now, but I think it will bounce back. Not as many people are going to school for construction right now, so in 10 years when I’m ready to be an actual contractor, there will be a need for people with those skills,” he said.

Massie, who expects to hire a few more laborers soon if business continues to pick up, said he prefers hiring college graduates.

“For an employer like me it’s a nice thing to see because I’ve seen them go further than the average guy who just grew up doing it. For me it’s still viable,” Massie said of a construction degree. “You can be a good estimator and do the number crunching but the real world experience that they get at HCC really makes a difference.”

As long as there is a student desire to learn construction and other trades like auto technology, HCC will offer to teach those skills, Roberts said.

“There are students that want to work in construction and they need to have a place where they can get that education. Do I think we’ll be back to where we were in 2006? No. I don’t think Haywood County can sustain that. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on it,” he said.

Both Roberts and Massie seem to have a positive outlook on the industry in Haywood County.

“I hope there will be a nice steady rise and I think the people that survive and are still out there doing work or looking for work, not only do they deserve it, I think it’s going to be there for them,” Massie said.

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