Summit County developers struggle in light of economic complications
Tony Mathison, the owner and creator of Mathison Custom Building, said the past few years of economic strife have been enough for him to lose joy in his work.
“I would say it’s been taxing and telling on everybody in the industry,” Mathison said. “We don’t enjoy our job like we used to. It’s a lot more difficult to build, and it’s not as fun as it used to be.”
Mathison said nearly every factor that goes into construction has had some kind of economic complication, from materials to delivery to securing employees.
“It’s, I think, a little bit of a pullback due to the entire economy,” said Marilyn Hogan, the executive officer of the Summit County Builders Association.
Mathison said the COVID-19 pandemic was the start of serious setbacks in the construction business. Materials to construct a home or business come from all over the country, and some appliances can come from around the world. Production and shipping of both were halted when COVID-19 began, and contractors are still feeling the effects.
According to Mathison, a sheet of plywood before the pandemic would have cost around $18. At its peak, he said the price jumped to $80.
While Mathison said prices have since decreased, though not as low as $18, other factors like securing housing for his employees since COVID-19 started has been a challenge. Mathison theorizes that the pandemic brought many people to Summit County who don’t contribute to the local workforce and instead work remotely.
“That doesn’t give us opportunities for any construction employees, trades — nonskilled or skilled — because housing is not available, and the inflated cost to live there or pay rent is really difficult,” he said.
Carolanne Powers, the senior project manager of Summit Homes Construction, said she has experienced the same issues.
“Material increases, labor cost increases, the cost of living continues to go up here, people are demanding an increase in wages, which is then carried over to construction costs,” Powers said.
Almost all of Powers’ recently hired employees, as well as subcontractors she works with, live outside the limits of Summit County, she said. According to Powers, they live in regions like Kremmling and Park County and prefer to commute to work because the cost of living is too high within Summit County.
“It’s very difficult to come into this market and get a new job and afford the cost of living here,” she said.
All of these complications have caused construction to not only double in price, but also take twice as long. Hogan said construction projects that would have taken 18 months are now taking up to two or two-and-a-half years to finish.
Then there’s the cost. To frame a house, Mathison said it used to cost around $100,000, but the price has recently jumped to $200,000. Both Mathison and Powers have seen the price of steel, insulation, windows and lumber increase, too.
“We’re having to work probably 10 times as hard for 10 times less efficiency,” Powers said.
So what effect does this have on business?
“It doesn’t really matter in Summit County, but it has hurt other places,” Mathison said.
However, Mathison said locals have suffered from these costs, and believes it’s important for Summit County developers to provide affordable housing projects. He added that home values in the county have gone up 30%.
“We’ve seen people leaving places they lived for a long time and wanting to move to the mountains because they like the lifestyle.” Hogan said. “That’s not an issue for some of the people that we’re seeing up here.”
Powers is part of the developer team constructing Smith Ranch, a neighborhood with deed-restricted homes aimed toward the local workforce. She added that one of her new employees moved into Smith Ranch because it was affordable.
“Everybody’s doing the best they can,” Powers said. “Everybody’s working really hard right now to build homes. You know, it’s a tough business.”
Even though both developers are feeling the pressure right now, Mathison said he’s grateful to still have a job, and Powers said projects like Smith Ranch keep her going.
“We’re firsthand helping to increase the housing shortage that we have here in Summit County,” Powers said. “So that kind of reminds us why we do what we do.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.
Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.