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WNC Business

Commercial construction's economic impact

Feb 21, 2023 03:18PM ● By Randee Brown

Jill Wallen, Co-owner and President of Dunlap Construction in Hendersonville, shared how varied the commercial construction industry can be. Her family business has been operating in the region for 45 years offering restoration, renovations, and new construction services. While available throughout Buncombe, Rutherford, Henderson, and Transylvania Counties, the majority of their current projects are located within a five mile radius of their office. 

Dunlap construction has the capacity to head 20 to 30 projects at a time, and Wallen said that this is the busiest they have ever been. “We’re booked solid for the next six months and, because of that, we are having to turn down jobs,” Wallen said. “Many other contractors are just as busy too. If there is another company that can jump on a project right away, I’d be cautious. Most established companies with a positive reputation have a backlog similar to our own.”

Wallen offered advice for businesses looking to renovate or build new construction. “Take the time to do the planning,” she said. “Supply and material shortages are real. It can be helpful to lock down all of the necessary selections for finishes before we even hammer down a nail. Our company takes the time to do the planning. We narrow down what we need, troubleshoot potential problems before they arise, and get a good team in place to support the project as it runs.”

While some general contractors maintain their own staff of skilled carpenters and laborers that can perform various tasks such as demolition, framing, insulation, site clean-up, cabinetry, and door installation, Wallen said that it is not easy to find workers. “It seems like there has always been a labor shortage in the industry,” she said. “Finding, training, and retaining employees has always been a challenge.”

As a general contractor, subcontractors perform portions of Wallen’s projects. Electricians, plumbers, roofers, drywall technicians, ceiling installers, and even those that specialize in installation of bathroom accessories are all specialty contractors that are hired for different projects depending on the scope. Construction companies can get bids from multiple subcontractors, though these companies seem to have slim staffing right now as well.

The Davis-Bacon Act provides guidelines for minimum wages in various skilled trades. The hourly rates range from a minimum of $9.13 (Landscape & Irrigation) to the highest rate of $29.43 (Ironworker, Structural), according to, an official US Government website. Wallen mentioned that while these numbers may be used as a standard for pay rate, they look pretty slim for WNC. She sees people in skilled trades in the construction industry earning $60,000 to $100,000 or more annually.

Wallen also shared her observation of trends within the region compared to the rest of the nation. “WNC is in its own bubble,” said Wallen. “When material shortages and project delays are occurring in larger metropolitan areas, they are not always happening at the same time for Western North Carolina. Since the area has been getting so much recognition in national publications for being such a great place to live, raise children, and have a business, more people are willing to invest here.”

Wallen said that she feels commercial construction is an economic indicator, helping to eliminate some economic fear and provide some hope for the future. A bustling commercial construction industry means plenty of growth, and this industry will continue to thrive and be sustainable here in Western North Carolina.