COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Orange cones dot the side of most central Ohio highways and a rotation of cranes decorate the Columbus skyline.
Mike Knisley knows that well. The executive secretary-treasurer of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council looks out his window to the west, beyond COSI, and can quickly locate the work being done on the Interstate 70-71 interchange.
Central Ohio is seeing the “largest thrust” of construction projects right now in the state, he said, and it is not just relegated to the roads. Ohio is flush with projects in general, and demand across the state is high for construction workers.
“It seems like we’ve been sitting on this demand for a while now,” Knisley said in an interview. “All of a sudden, everyone wants everything built at the same time.”
In early May, Google announced it would erect two additional data centers — one in Columbus and one in Lancaster. Construction is already underway on the projects, which will likely require at least 1,000 workers, according to a spokesperson. At the time, the spokesperson declined to say how many full-time data center workers will be needed in the facilities once they go live.
Computer chipmaker Intel initially estimated it would need more than seven times that amount of construction workers on its mega-project east of the city in Licking County — at least 7,000. In mid-May, Intel moved into its next phase of building the eventual semiconductor fabrication plants.
Central Ohio is seeing a slew of construction projects in other sectors, from higher education projects to those creating housing, Knisley said. All of the hustle has meant the trades council, which umbrellas local construction unions and members, had to rethink its strategies and double its efforts in recruiting more people to apprenticeship programs.
“It’s really all hands on deck,” he said. “We’ve had apprenticeship programs for decades, going back to the 1800s, so we really have this model down pat, and now we are ramping up to scale our outreach in the communities.”
Construction workers average about $17 an hour in Ohio, according to job site Ziprecruiter. As wages inflate in other sectors, such as retail and fast food, Knisley said some of the work is also communicating to young people that construction jobs are viable.
Although demand is high, Knisley said he is not concerned — the sector is not at code red in Ohio. “Maybe a slight yellow of caution,” he said.
If another mega-project on Intel’s scale were to be proposed in central Ohio on the same timeframe, that could create issues, he said.
But construction gigs are transient, meaning workers are moving from one to another as projects finish.
“We’ve seen this before on a smaller scale,” he said. “I think we’re just ready for it.”