A Market of Niches: Durwest Construction

In recent years, Durwest Construction has built several prominent institutional and commercial projects on Vancouver Island, including Songhees Wellness Centre, Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa and projects on Bear Mountain.

“Victoria is kind of a funny market where certain builders may find a niche with certain projects or a certain type of project for a period of time,” Kray says. “For us, our portfolio remains a bit more diverse.”

Current Durwest projects include expansions at Victoria and Nanaimo international airports, and a new learning-teaching auditorium at Royal Roads University. In the works for later this year is the new Nigel House in Saanich.

Durwest has about 45 full-time employees, which remains constant throughout the year. “Then on any particular project, depending on the size of it, and depending on what’s required from our forces, we could have as many as a dozen guys on one particular project,” Kray says.

Still Quite Strong

Durwest is among the nearly 460 members of the Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA), which serves the institutional, commercial, industrial, civil and multi-residential sectors. That’s unlike VRBA and CHBA-VI members, who concentrate on the residential sector.

VICA members include such Island construction heavyweights as Farmer, Kinetic, Knappett and Campbell, plus businesses that support construction such as lawyers and accountants.

The construction market is strong, particularly for multi-family residential, with most regions of the Island having low rental vacancy rates of around one per cent, notes VICA CEO Rory Kulmala.

“Demand is driving need,” he adds. “The great thing about the market is it’s reacting and being responsive to the need. And our contracting community is mobilizing and making it happen.”

VICA announced this March that for the second straight year Vancouver Island had set records for construction employment and building permit values in 2018. Employment rose 3.8 per cent to 35,700 workers, while building permit values increased nine per cent to $2.45 billion. Fourth quarter permit totals for the Island dropped 16 per cent compared with the third quarter, however. Kulmala attributed that in part to a softening of real estate prices.

Kulmala notes that during Vancouver’s housing bubble, many people opted to “cash in their chips” and move to the Island. “Now, with the softening in Vancouver, we’re seeing the same thing happen (here),” Kulmala says.

Solving the bottlenecks

Kulmala shares some of the same concerns as VRBA’s Casey Edge about Greater Victoria’s various municipal bureaucracies and the impacts they have on the costs of projects and getting them off the ground.

“There’s a fairly broad difference across the CRD on how they’re handled,” Kulmala says. “You look at Langford, they get building permits out, development permits out very quickly. It’s a very attractive environment to build.”

Another challenge for the industry is getting enough qualified tradespeople. “If we need to hire a crew for a new project and if all our guys are busy, which everyone is, it’s a real challenge to find a carpenter,” Kray says. “Most of our hires that we have coming into the company now, they’re guys coming from Alberta.”

Continue reading on Douglas Magazine: http://douglasmagazine.com/new-generation-of-builders-make-exciting-changes-in-construction-industry/

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