THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING: Casper Contractor Stymied by High Fuel Prices and Supply Shortages

Stuck in the paradox of supply chain economics

By Jennifer Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

In a rural state like Wyoming, contractors and handymen typically log upwards of hundreds of miles to bid projects and earn new customers. For Ivan Trivitt, owner of Interior Paint and Drywall in Casper, it’s not uncommon for him to drive 40 miles one way for a home project.

With high gas prices, supply shortages and rising inflation, contractor Ivan Trivitt is struggling to maintain and grow his business despite no shortage of work. (Courtesy photo from Ivan Trivitt)

When fuel costs are low, the excess miles at approximately 10 miles per gallon were slightly inconvenient but otherwise worth the business, he said. Yet with gas prices now hovering around $3.50 in Natrona County, the 35-year-old general contractor had no choice but to pass the gas surcharge on to his customers.

“In the beginning, I was able to work around it,” he noted, “but when the fuel cost became double to triple, it really began to cut into my profits.”

Now, when Trivitt bids on a job, the gas is built into the project cost. His customers have been pretty understanding, as long as he breaks down the total to explain the additional cost of fuel. So, far he hasn’t lost out on any business.

Construction materials, however, are another matter. They’re in short supply, and prices are skyrocketing. Since Trivitt launched his company two years ago, lumber has tripled in cost; he might drive to three stores looking for plywood and 2 x 4’s, which also ramps up fuel expenses. A sheet of plywood that used to run $13 now costs upwards of $48—if he can find it.

Sometimes, he’s just out of luck.

In January, Trivitt replaced an exterior for a customer, ordering the front door in January. After months of waiting, the vendor canceled the order, forcing him to go to three more vendors before he finally found a replacement. This delayed the project by four weeks. While Trivitt didn’t lose that customer, he has lost a handful of others due to materials delays ranging from doors and windows to appliances and framing lumber.

Rarer yet are any products containing petroleum. Paint, adhesives and caulk used in plumbing have gone up in price and become scarce, he noted, in the wake of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

But there’s a paradox: Where materials are in short supply, work isn’t. Trivitt partners with a handful of Casper property management companies., so he does drywall, plumbing, remodeling and small reconstruction projects as renters move in and out in addition to working for private home owners – projects that are too small for larger construction companies to tackle but perfect for him.

Trivitt currently has one employee after recently losing two workers to higher-paying jobs in the oil field. A lack of manpower and building supplies are the major impediments to growing his business, he said, including his inability to purchase two new work trucks with 8-foot beds to haul materials. Trivitt recently thought he had one purchased until a dealer told him the order was cancelled because the manufacturer couldn’t meet the demand.

Small wonder that Trivitt is worried about the current economic climate and what it might mean for the future of his company.

“I’m concerned about the price of everything, especially with interest rates being high and property values starting to decline,” he said. “There is a lot of new construction houses being built with buyers backing out. It’s frustrating for sure.”

Trivitt said he doesn’t know who to blame for soaring inflation, because there are so many contributing factors involved.

“I hope that we’re able to navigate through the future without too much difficulty,” he said, “but I imagine things will continue to get worse for a while before they get better.”

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