Subscribe for 17¢ / day

CASPER, Wyo. — Not gloomy, but cautious, with a few glimmers of hope.

That might sum up the outlook for the 2011 construction season.

“Stable and stagnant,” is Jonathan Downing’s way of arriving at about the same conclusion. He is executive vice president of the Wyoming Contractors Association.

Big construction jobs are few, Downing said, although there’s work on the National Center for Atmospheric Research supercomputing center, and the High Plains Gasification-Advanced Technology Center looms. Both are in the Cheyenne area.

Highway construction will be limited, and the stimulus money is nearly gone, Downing said.

Private work hasn’t yet rebounded, but Swan Ranch Rail Park in Cheyenne is generating some activity. There also is some construction activity associated with the Niobrara Shale oil play in southeastern Wyoming, Downing said.

Questions related to tax policy that arose during the last legislative session will probably slow wind-energy development, he said.

Despite being hit hard by the recession, Downing said the industry has started to stabilize.

Even so, “I think we still will see some companies fail this year in Wyoming,” he said.

Wyoming construction firms are searching farther afield for work, Downing said. In the northeast, some have pointed toward North Dakota, where the Bakken Shale oil play is in full swing.

Downing said small projects could receive 12 to 15 bids, where in years past they would have received two or three.

But no matter how difficult times might be in Wyoming, they are often much worse in other states.

Firms from as far away as Minnesota, California and Texas are submitting project bids, he said. “On the UW front, they’ve had companies from the East Coast looking at some of their projects.”

Josh Carnahan, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Wyoming, said while there is still school construction, it is down significantly from where it was several years ago.

But Carnahan detects some renewed optimism among builders, along with hopes that the industry will turn around in earnest next year.

“We were afraid it was going to be 2014 before we saw any significant signs of improvement,” he said.

In the meantime, he expects construction projects to remain on an uneven trajectory: “When things are bad, they’re the first things that get shelved. And when things pick up, they’re not necessarily the first things that get picked up.”

Another problem might be finding skilled employees as conditions improve, he said, because many workers have left the state.