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Homebuilders in Billings scrambling to find workers as prices continue to rise

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Posted at 6:35 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 14:50:20-05

As delays in shipping and increases in material costs continue to push housing prices in the Billings area up, home builders say they are scrambling to find workers to meet the rising demand.

“We’re up almost 42% in the cost of housing, just in the last year,” said Kim Welzenbach, the CEO of Home Builders Association of Billings.

The cost to build a house increased by 21% from 2020 to 2021, according to the homebuilders. It went up another 20% in January of this year alone, according to the group, largely because of rising material costs.

“The cost of materials is going up for a number of reasons, whether it be tariffs or fuel cost et cetera, to get the products,” said Welzenbach.

In January, the Billings Association of Realtors reported the average home sale in the region was $374,487, about 20 percent higher compared to the previous year. The area has under a month's supply of home inventory, well below the roughly three months industry experts say is required for a balanced market.

Receiving materials now takes more time than ever, said Doug Wild, the general manager of Classic Design Homes.

“Windows that used to take three or four weeks (pre-pandemic) now take 14 or 16 weeks to get. Cabinets that were four weeks lead time now are 16 weeks lead time,” said Wild.

Workers who have been in the industry for years are retiring, and there’s no one left to their take their place.

“Due to people retiring, et cetera, just in Billings area alone, we’re going to need to inject over 40,000 people into our workforce over the next 10 years,” Welzenbach said.

Finding trade workers has been tough over the past two years.

“Good, qualified contractors, sub-contract laborers are hard to find," Wild said.

Organizations like the Home Builders Association are turning to the younger generation to fill those much-needed roles.

“That is where we’re going to have to focus, will be our youth, in order to inject talent into our workforce,” Welzenbach said.

The HBA offers academic and industry scholarships, as well as financial aid for high school graduates who are interested in trade schools.

“Trades has become a consideration and we’re working on taking the stigma away,” Welzenbach said.

Billings School District 2 has also emphasized the need for trade workers.

“One of the things we were able to accomplish is to have trades recognized as part of the STEM programs,” said Welzenbach.

The HBA has partnered with the school district for trade programs like Student Build, giving students that trade experience early on in their careers.

“It gives them a really good fundamental skill set by the time they come out to kind of get started and then move into their own business,” said Welzenbach.