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Front Page » Business & Finance » Construction team shortage may slow development

Construction team shortage may slow development

Written by on September 25, 2013

Fernando Martinez is back. And his return to the construction trade might be a sign of the times.

In 2008, in the midst of the real estate collapse, the owner of Caribe Homes began dissolving his house-building business, laying off 74 employees.

“Those were the most painful two years,” said Mr. Martinez. “You had to reinvent yourself. One of the things I did was turn to real estate. By the time the market crashed it was cheaper to buy a house than to build it myself.”

Today, he is residential president of the Miami Association of Realtors and former president of the Builders Association of South Florida. He has since relaunched Caribe Homes with 12 employees developing single-family homes across Miami-Dade County. “I took my company and basically tore it apart, dissolving it and letting everybody go.”

He was not alone.

Construction firms slashed staff across Miami-Dade, losing more than 24,000 workers from 2009 to 2012, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, unemployment in the construction industry passed 27%.

It was a sharp turnaround from the real estate boom around 2006, when the local construction industry provided about 53,600 jobs. It employed even more the following year, providing work for 55,700, according to Bureau statistics.

But by 2008, the industry’s numbers were declining. It lost about 7,300 jobs that year, and even more the following year, when 11,200 additional jobs disappeared.

But as the real estate market has rebounded, construction job losses have slowed, even though the industry still employs fewer people than it did about six years ago.

About 31,100 people worked in the construction industry in the county in 2011 – about 1,200 fewer than one year earlier. And at the end of last year, only 300 jobs had been lost.

Philip J. Spiegelman, founder and chairman of ISG World, which markets luxury condominiums, said the disparity between the construction workforce and rising real estate demand is a factor that developers will have to consider as they make predictions.

“The challenge they have in order to put record sales numbers on the books is can they put the right kind of teams together?” he asked.

The art, he said, will be in balancing talent with demand.

“So many people that were qualified in the construction field have left,” Mr. Spiegelman said. “But if their first profession is construction, they’ll be back.”

That’s what happened with Mr. Martinez, who said he never really left. He remained in the industry, joining the real estate association and rising to its executive ranks, keeping a close watch on the market and waiting for an opportunity to reenter.

“I’m getting calls every day from subcontractors saying, ‘Hey, we’re back in business,’” he said. “People are coming back.”