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Local construction companies say COVID hasn't stopped business; some contractors are busier than ever

Local construction companies say COVID hasn't stopped business; some contractors are busier than ever

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Only $5 for 5 months

Skiles Construction is on track to have its busiest year ever.

When the pandemic first began to affect the area in mid-March, Brent Skiles, owner of the Holdrege company, was nervous about what it would do to his business.

“About the first week when everything went bad, we did lose a good amount of jobs the first week. We got nervous,” said Skiles. “We thought it was going to be bad to the point of where we talked about what would happen to the workers.”

Skiles co-owns the business with Jason Nitchie, and they specialize in door/window installations, bath/kitchen remodels, siding, decks and entire home remodels. Bid cycles are typically slow in early spring, explained Skiles, but requests for remodeling jobs began to pick up.

“While you are stuck at home with your kids, (you) look around and see what we can get done,” Skiles said.

Skiles Construction currently has jobs scheduled into next spring and hired another employee to help with the workload. The surge in demand for contractors for small remodels to new home builds is a common occurrence right now in the area.

Melroy Construction in Holdrege typically is booked three to five weeks out but demand has almost doubled, said owner Troy Melroy. Along with remodeling, commercial projects and concrete work, the company also builds new construction, and they are booked for the next four to five months.

“We have quite a bit of surge just here lately. Coming through COVID, I just think everybody was at home and looking to see what they can do,” Melroy said.

Skiles and Melory both noted that some customers have used their stimulus check to fund projects.

“I did have, for instance, one elderly man who needed a garage door opener. He got his stimulus and used it for that,” Melroy said.

Remodeling jobs also have increased for Midwest Elite Contracting of Kearney, but the number of new homes the company was to build this year has decreased due to customers’ jobs or not being able to sell a current home, said owner Austin Gardine.

“We were going to do like six houses this year, and four of those backed out. We are going to talk to a few people about doing one or two next year. With new homes there is a lot of conversations and planning,” Gardine said.

The uncertainty of this year has made some people apprehensive about taking on big projects, but they have seen an increase in kitchen and bathroom remodels, new flooring and decks, added Gardine.

Gene Knaggs, owner of Knaggs Construction in Kearney, said it’s unbelievable how busy they have been in the past few months. The company primarily builds new homes, garages, shops and large additions. When the pandemic first began, Knaggs said they only received about one a call a month from customers interested in building. Now they are receiving two calls a week from people looking to build. The company currently is booked through next year.

Low interest rates is one reason many people are looking to build new homes, Knaggs said.

“With a new house there is less maintenance, low repairs, no honey-do projects or less honey-do projects, and the price is right,” he said. “The resale market is real good. They sell their home for a good price and build a new home.”

With business booming for contractors, finding supplies and an increase in prices for supplies are issues they now face. Hurricane season can cause a shortage in sheet material, but there is a shortage of lumber this year as well, said Melroy.

Knaggs said prices have increased dramatically for many building supplies.

“It’s definitely hard to get supplies. You have to buy it when you get it. Siding is delayed, shingles delayed, plywood has tripled in cost. Two by fours, two by sixes have almost doubled in cost,” said Knaggs. “By the time you start framing, the price went up 50 percent. The wood price is going up so fast — $8 a sheet two months ago, $14 a sheet a month ago. $23 this month.”

Despite the busyness now, the contractors are apprehensive about what the future will bring after the boom.

“I have a feeling that the impact of this lockdown and everything is going to last into the next year. That is where it’s going to get hard,” said Melroy.

A drop in the stock market and low grain prices may decrease the amount of construction jobs in the future, he added.

“Usually once you have a big surge of clientele, a year or two after that it dies,” said Knaggs. “You do what you can now, and hopefully you get through the slow time.”

Despite what the future may hold, the companies are grateful for the amount of business they have had this year.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s definitely a gift,” Knaggs said.

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