Scott McIntosh represents what for five years has been a rare commodity in Sonoma County: a general contractor who is hiring.
The home remodeling business is “much better” these days, said McIntosh, who owns McIntosh Builders, a 25-year-old Santa Rosa construction firm, with his father, Dave.
“We've never had more work than we have now on the books,” said McIntosh.
Even as new home construction remains far below historic levels, some builders and retailers say that more homeowners have started to fix up their bathrooms and kitchens and to add extra rooms.
Among those reporting an increase is Santa Rosa's Mead Clark Lumber. Its sales of doors and windows — items that normally signal a major remodeling project — increased 10 percent last year. For the first quarter of 2013, door and window sales jumped 35 percent, compared to last year.
“We're definitely seeing increased activity in the last six months,” said Randy Destruel, an owner.
Even so, business remains a long ways from what it was in 2005, when the store rang up $110 million in sales, Destruel said. In the depths of the ensuing downturn, annual sales fell as low as $34 million about three years ago.
Construction has long been a key segment of the county's economy and one that has struggled mightily in the aftermath of a historic housing bubble.
This year the commercial building sector is benefitting from several major projects under way, including the new Sutter hospital in Santa Rosa, the casino resort in Rohnert Park and the Target shopping center in Petaluma.
Even so, construction companies have been slow to hire back workers who lost their jobs during the recession. They employed 8,300 workers in February, up 1 percent from a year ago but still down nearly 40 percent from 2007, when there were 13,700 construction workers in the county.
“There is no rebound on the immediate horizon,” said Keith Woods, chief executive officer at the North Coast Builders Exchange, a Santa Rosa trade group. “But people in this industry do feel that things are getting better, and definitely are better than they were two to three years ago.”