Short-Term Housing, Long-Term Gains
The Lava Ridge Construction Phase Would Bring an Economic Boost to Magic Valley Businesses, Hotels, Airbnbs, and RV Parks
As a general foreman and journeyman lineman, Chris Mercer is no stranger to large energy construction jobs. For the past 21 years, he’s gone from project to project and stayed for six months to three years.
It’s adventurous, challenging, and an incredible way to see and build critical energy infrastructure across America.
To build a clean energy project, several trades or professions must work together, including civil, electrical, mechanical, and structural engineers, construction managers, crane operators, electricians, welders, heavy equipment operators, concrete workers, surveyors, environmental specialists, logistics, and safety inspectors.
Hiring local suppliers and workforce for energy projects is preferred by developers and general contractors. However, specialized tradespeople, like Mercer, are typically brought in at different stages of construction.
The Lava Ridge Wind Project Construction Phase
The proposed Lava Ridge Wind Project is expected to be constructed over two years, with a phased approach to accommodate grazing operations and protect seasonal wildlife areas.
In January 2023, the Bureau of Land Management released the Lava Ridge Wind Project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), a comprehensive and unfiltered analysis of the proposed Project and alternatives. Two preferred alternatives were identified by the BLM that scaled back Magic Valley Energy’s proposed Project based on stakeholder recommendations, clean energy demand, wildlife and avian accommodations, and thoughtful setbacks from important cultural locations.
The DEIS research included essential details on the construction phases for all alternatives, housing assessments, traffic flows, and ways to accommodate and protect wildlife, as well as the economic benefits Idaho and Magic Valley communities will reap in tax revenue, economic output, and economic development.
At peak, the Lava Ridge Wind Project’s construction phase could employ 700 workers – both local and non-local, however, the influx of non-local workers will only be felt by local communities for a short period, and not for the entire construction phase because of the phased approach to the Project build and staggered construction stages.
Analysis Shows Southern Idaho Has Sufficient Vacant Housing Units for Short-Term Rentals
For traveling construction workers, finding a home away from home is all a part of the gig.
Mercer’s wife often travels with him, giving him “the best of both worlds.” He estimates about 30 percent of his colleagues travel with their partners and around five percent or less bring their entire families, often homeschooling their children on the road.
Together, the Mercers have stayed in RV parks and apartments. They recently purchased a home while working on a longer-term project in New York.
Mercer said he factors location to the job site, amenities, and housing contract flexibility when looking for a spot to land for a few months.
Mobile parks that allow for RV hookups are his preferred housing situation. Still, he’s no stranger to motels, Airbnb, apartment rentals, and sharing a house with colleagues.
Affordable housing continues to be a topic among local businesses and economic development organizations as private companies are encouraged to play a role in facilitating ways to make Southern Idaho housing more attractive for new talent moving into the area while balancing affordability for those who already call the area home.
The state of Idaho housing forecasts range from 21,676 units in 2023 to 25,593 units in 2026. These forecasts reflect a gradual and continued increase in demand for housing primarily due to over 30,000 new residents moving into the state each year according to the Idaho Division of Financial Management 2022.
The DEIS’s analysis acknowledged that many of the construction jobs would be filled by local talent but studied the housing market using an analysis that assumes all workers would be non-local and would each occupy one housing unit to ensure enough housing was available.
Their analysis showed more than 1,737 vacant housing units and sufficient vacant housing units in the Magic Valley are available to support construction workers who would temporarily relocate. Further research shows around 500 Airbnbs are available within the Magic Valley region and more than 250 long-term RV sites with an estimated 15 to 20 percent availability at any given time. Sites like furnishedfinders.com also boast available openings for traveling workers.
Local RV site owners and property managers encourage booking six months in advance.
An Enviable Economic Boost for Southern Idaho
The increased opportunities for local workers and businesses will increase spending across various sectors, including retail, hospitality, food service, and lodging.
A study of the economic impacts on the Lava Ridge Wind Project shows the proposed Project construction phase would bring more than $80 Million in tax revenue to Idaho and more than $500 Million in economic output – a local and state boost unlike any other venture could provide.
The tax revenue from the wind project will have a direct benefit to local schools like Jerome, Shoshone, Dietrich, Minidoka, Valley, and the College of Southern Idaho.
Rick Sharp, a construction manager for quality assurance, has been working on the road for almost nine years and is quick to point to the economic benefits communities receive from industry projects.
Developers choose well-established general contractors to manage and build projects. Some companies offer apprenticeships for local workers that can be completed on-site, allowing laborers to advance in their careers with on-the-job training.
“It’s a huge impact for the communities from an economic standpoint,” Sharp said. “On one of my jobs in Wyoming, the engineering firm would buy lunches at the schools and try to put money into the system.”
Sharp said many workers travel with their partners, and only a small percentage bring their children along, preferring to use their breaks to travel home instead. The DEIS analysis concluded the impact on the local school districts would be minimal, while the healthy economic benefits would be felt across local governments, industries, businesses, and individuals.
Business-Minded? Here are a Few Ideas To Prepare
Most traveling construction workers are paid per diem, a daily allowance to cover expenses like meals, accommodation, transportation, and incidentals incurred while traveling.
Sharp and Mercer, who are usually accompanied by their wives, base their lodging decisions on accommodations – preferring Airbnbs or RV sites to hotels or short-term rentals.
Depending on the per diem amount for the project, workers look for the following when trying to find temporary accommodations:
- Access to WIFI
- Laundry facilities
- Flexible contracts
- Within an hour’s drive from the project site
- Access to grocery stores and recreation
Those looking for a new income stream have opportunities to rent rooms or start a new venture with construction workers in mind.
“I wish people would give construction guys a chance instead of trying to shove them off right off the bat,” Sharp said. “We want to get to know the community and learn different aspects of each area.”