By John Hielscher
Posted Oct 22, 2018 at 2:15 PM
Florida led the nation in construction job growth over the past year, according to a new report.
Contractors added 70,700 workers to their Florida payrolls, a 14.8 percent growth rate, in the 12 months ending in September, the Associated General Contractors of America reported.
Florida topped the U.S. both in the number of new jobs and the annual percentage gain.
But some of that growth rate could be skewed, analysts say, by the sharp drop in employment in Florida last September after Hurricane Irma.
In the Sarasota-Manatee area, construction in the employment sector rose over the year by nearly 10 percent, or 2,200 jobs, the Florida Department of Employment Security said last week. A total of 24,700 were taking home paychecks from the industry.
In Charlotte County, construction jobs increased by 300, or 8.3 percent, to a total of 3,900.
Forty-five states added construction jobs over the year, the contractors’ group said.
“Construction activity is expanding nearly everywhere, as only three states experienced a decline in construction employment over the past year,” said the group’s chief economist, Ken Simonson. “These results show that contractors remain upbeat about demand for projects going forward.
“However, further employment gains may be difficult,” Simonson said, “given low unemployment in most states and an inadequate pipeline for training future construction workers.”
A labor shortage continues to hamper construction in Southwest Florida, slowing some large-scale developments by months. Many of the subcontractors who perform most of the labor at constructions sites — from carpenters to plumbers to drywall installers — say they cannot find the staff to handle the surge of home, condominium, apartment, hotel and retail projects underway or planned.
A recent survey by the contractors’ group found that nearly 80 percent of Florida construction firms were having a hard time filling some or all of their positions.
The construction workforce in Sarasota-Manatee peaked at 31,800 in April 2006 but plunged to 14,900 in 2011 during the economic downturn, when building all but ceased and workers were forced to leave town or find other ways to earn a living.
Florida ranked 22nd nationwide for over-the-month growth, adding 1,600 construction workers from August, a 0.3 percent increase, the contractors said. Construction employment declined in 17 states for the month.
Last month, Florida’s unemployment rate reached its lowest mark since February 2007, falling from 3.7 percent to 3.5 percent, the state Department of Economic Opportunity reported last week. Payrolls expanded by. 4.8 percent over the year, but analysts say yearly comparisons are difficult because of the decline in year-ago employment after Irma.