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Looking Forward to Construction Season

laska has two seasons, the saying goes: winter and construction. This issue of Alaska Business comes out when winter has not yet relaxed its dismal grip, but we’re already thinking about construction. Following February’s special section about architecture and engineering, the topic is a natural fit.

Construction trades span everything from kitchen remodelers and roofers to the hive-mind of crews in the industry’s two major tribes, vertical and horizontal construction. Carpenters and ironworkers build on top of the landscape, while graders and pavers mold the landscape itself. And let’s not forget the project managers who must choreograph the dance of materials, equipment, and labor on a wobbly stage of weather, money, and politics.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development counted 14,700 jobs in the construction sector, as of the end of 2021, hardly changed compared to the last months before COVID-19 arrived. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) put the figure at 17,670 in May 2020, but the agencies use different categories and data collection methods. (For example, is a state snowplow driver a government employee or a 47-4051 Highway Maintenance Worker?) The most common construction occupation, according to BLS, is operating engineer, with 2,680 counted in Alaska. Laborers come in at 2,610; carpenters at 2,010; first-line supervisors at 1,710; electricians at 1,500; and there were 1,130 plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. Supervisors unsurprisingly have the highest average wage, at $88,420 per year, but plumbers are right up there, so close that they’d have to argue over who picks up the lunch tab.

Construction workers in Alaska are among the highest paid in the country, according to BLS. The mean annual wage of $67,240 is fifth, after top-ranked Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York. With its 2,080 construction workers, Fairbanks is among the top ten highest-paid metro areas, in the same class as San Francisco, Honolulu, Chicago, Seattle, New York, and San Jose. The “non-metropolitan area,” too, is second only to Hawaii, in terms of average pay.

Builders are bracing for a boom as federal dollars pour in. “Energy, Sanitation, Roads & More” details where those infrastructure funds are going. Those projects and more, however, must cope with the challenge of a “Supply Chain Squeeze.” This special section also includes a couple of construction case studies, “Cordova South Harbor” and “Tank Farm Facilities.” A guest article by Ryan Watterson explains “Alternate Delivery Contracting” so clearly that it might’ve been ripped from our sister publication, The Alaska Contractor quarterly, sponsored by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Alaska. And finally, AGC’s annual awards exemplify the traits that make Alaska’s construction industry so robust.