By Jerry Deschane
The odd, vaguely familiar sensation grew stronger as the calendar turned to 2014.
It was cold, snowy and miserable outside, but the weather didn’t bother me. It took some time to identify the feeling because I had not felt that way for years. I was optimistic.
This will be a good year for residential construction in Wisconsin. The economic recovery that started slowly two years ago will become very visible as the year unfolds.
Interest rates have ticked up, but that won’t hold the recovery back because customers will realize their parents would laugh at them for thinking 4.5 percent for a 30-year mortgage is high.
Employment growth will get serious now that housing forecasters have started using the word “normal” again.
Obamacare will continue to confuse employers, but the rewards of expanding will begin to outweigh the safety of waiting. All signs are pointing up, and you would have to be an avowed pessimist, or a Vikings fan, to see any serious dark clouds in 2014.
Even residential land development is returning, and that was the real victim of the downturn. At one point four years ago, there were no new lots being created in Wisconsin. An industry cannot get any more depressed than that.
But things started picking up in 2010, and the number of new lots created in 2013 more than doubled the number created the year before. This year will be even better when market demand, money availability and entrepreneurial willingness begin to work together.
A big question for this year is whether city halls, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the other regulators that are critical to the development process will go with timely approvals after so many years of minimal activity.
There will be headaches this year, but, for the most part, they will be of the successful variety. Material prices will have the hiccups while lumber mills and loggers deal with labor shortages and old equipment.
The greatest frustration for builders and suppliers will be hiring, training and retaining workers. Young men and women who are willing to work with their hands will be more sought after than a whitetail with antlers. Look for local skirmishes when builders steal talented employees from one another. Wisconsin’s smart-building component providers will tap that frustration to expand their market share.
So, yes, the snow is falling, and temperatures are frigid. But that won’t last long. Spring is on its way to Wisconsin.