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  • 01 Aug 2016 6:29 PM | Anonymous

    Confidence in Sarasota County

    By Mary Dougherty, Guest Columnist

    Trust in our local county leaders reached its highest mark in 2015, according to the latest Sarasota County citizen survey. This illustrates that citizens trust Sarasota County government leaders more (at 51 percent) than state or federal government leaders - a pattern that has been consistent.

    Sarasota County residents trust our commissioners now more than they ever have in the last 20 years. I'd like to congratulate the Sarasota County Commission on earning that trust. This trust translates into confidence in their decision-making, and particularly the recent decision to transmit the recent changes to the comprehensive plan to the state for review, as referenced in the July 6 article, "County comprehensive plan update approved." For the next 10 years, this document will guide how county planners will address quality of life, environmental, transportation, health, utilities and land-use issues.

    We need to support our local leaders in making changes that will ensure we have the roadways, shopping, dining and neighborhoods to support our growth. They will be making those hard smart-growth choices that will benefit our region for years and years to come.

    It's a delicate balance. We must also have the confidence that our county commissioners will maintain our natural resources. To ensure that these assets are the most pristine, while at the same time providing infrastructure and amenities for hundreds of thousands of people who move here every year. Smart planning now - paired with common-sense development - will protect our community for the future and continue to provide resources for people who live here.

    That's a lot of pressure. Thankfully, there was a lot of citizen input on this comprehensive plan as well. Several members of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange worked with others in the business community and provided their expertise, time and talents to incorporate smart-growth concepts to ensure Sarasota is a business-friendly community for future generations.

    The members of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange live, work and play in this community. They have built their businesses here and built the community we are proud to call home. They are employers, employees, neighbors, friends and citizens in the community. Our members are engaged and share a long-term vision for the future of our community, and like our members, the community is also engaged in this process.


  • 25 Jul 2016 6:31 PM | Anonymous

    Construction companies struggle to find enough skilled workers

    Low wages and exodus after housing crash are taking their toll

    By John Hielscher john.hielscher@heraldtribune.com

    Home building is back in Southwest Florida, and so are thousands of new construction jobs.

    But some residential builders say they continue to have trouble finding construction workers for their job sites - and the demand for those workers is expected to keep growing.

    "It's a huge daily challenge, no question about it," said Michael Storey, president of Neal Communities, the region's largest locally based home builder. "And it's not only a quantity issue, it's a quality issue as well. Finding skilled workers makes the equation even more difficult."

    The subcontractors who perform most of the labor at constructions sites - from carpenters to plumbers to drywall installers - have reported labor shortages for some time. One report said 80 percent of the nation's builders have labor woes, and more are seeing delays as they wait for crews to get to jobs.

    Construction Employment in Sarasota-Manatee

    May 2004; 26,100;

    May 2005; 28,900;

    May 2006; 32,200;

    May 2007; 28,500;

    May 2008; 22,000;

    May 2009; 17,000;

    May 2010; 15,200;

    May 2011; 14,900;

    May 2012: 15,300;

    May 2013; 16,400;

    May 2014; 18,700;

    May 2015; 20,100;

    May 2016; 21,100;

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics Program.

    Florida wage data

    Average annual wages for construction specialty trade contractors:

    Construction laborers; $27,680;

    Drywall and ceiling tile installers; $30,400;

    Paving, surfacing and tamping equipment operators; $30,710;

    Painters, construction and maintenance; $31,000;

    Tile and marble setters; $31,460;

    Roofers; $31,760;

    Insulation workers, floor, ceiling and wall; $32,930;

    Brickmasons and blockmasons; $34,060;

    Plasterers and stucco masons; $34,200;

    Cement masons and concrete finishers; $34,570;

    Glaziers; $34,990;

    Carpenters; $35,240;

    Operating engineers, other construction equipment operators; $36,500;

    Plumbers, Pipefitters and steamfitters; $38,820;

    Electricians; $40,650;

    Pipelayers; $40,870;

    First-line supervisors; $54,490;

    Source: Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015.

    "It's very difficult to find labor right now," said Jon Mast, CEO of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association. "It's a big problem."

    At Neal Communities, which sold 989 new homes in 2015, production time has increased for the past three years.

    "It's at a 10 to 15 percent increase on the cycle, from the time we start a home to the day we complete it," Storey said.

    Demand forecast to rise 40%

    Demand for residential construction workers in Florida is projected to jump 40 percent - or 66,000 employees - from 2014 through the end of this year, according to new estimates from the National Association of Home Builders. Only three other states expect a larger increase.

    The construction sector in Sarasota-Manatee added 1,000 jobs in May over last year, a 5 percent growth rate that was the third-largest increase in that sector statewide.

    A total of 21,100 workers were counted in the two counties' construction industry, the highest May total in eight years. But that is still nearly one-third off its peak. The construction workforce hit 32,200 in May 2006 and plunged to 14,900 in 2011.

    Steady work helps

    Luxury custom home builder John Cannon said by having a steady stream of homes under construction, he has been able to provide steady work for his subcontractors.

    "There might be plenty of framers available, but when you can contract with a really good framer, provide him steady work and pay him on time, they want to work for you," said Cannon, president of the company that bears his name. "If you're a smaller/boutique builder, you are forced to hire someone with limited experience who won't provide quality workmanship.

    "For our subcontractors, it's a challenge to hire good, qualified workers. During the downturn, many construction workers moved out of the area, retired or changed careers, and today's workers, new to the construction industry, are younger and don't always have the passion for perfection nor the work ethic of some of the older, more experienced workers," he said.

    Many workers left Florida during the recession to seek jobs in other states that were not as damaged by the real estate downturn, and it's been hard to bring them back. A number of laborers were immigrants who returned to their home countries and decided not to return. Others found jobs in oil-boom states or just turned to other occupations.

    Lower wages

    One problem could be wages, which are often lower in Florida for many types of work than in other states.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, carpenters in Florida earn an average $35,240 a year, compared with the $46,780 U.S. average. Drywall and ceiling-tile installers are paid an average $30,400 in Florida, versus $46,760 nationwide. The average annual wage for glaziers is $34,990 in Florida, and $45,421 across the country.

    And labor prices are rising because of tight demand, and Mast and others say that will inevitably increase the cost of new homes.

    Permits rise 65%

    Despite the workforce issues, home construction is still roaring in Sarasota-Manatee. Through April, a total of 2,808 permits for single-family homes and multi-family units had been issued, 65 percent ahead of last year's pace. Nearly 7,150 residential permits were pulled in the two counties in all of 2015.

    In Charlotte County, permits for residential construction have climbed 58 percent so far this year.

    Statewide, residential building is 9 percent ahead of last year.

    In Florida, construction employment in June rose by 25,000 jobs, or 5.9 percent, over the year, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Nationwide, it remained steady after two months of declines.

    "Construction demand is still growing strongly in all regions and among many types of owners," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the association. "But contractors appear to be struggling to fill jobs in the short run."

    He noted that recent data showed a spike in job openings at construction firms and a huge decline in the number of experienced construction workers available for hire.

    Rob Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders, says labor shortages are a top constraint for new construction. The number of unfilled positions in residential construction has matched the high from 2006, he said, but homebuilding activity is still nowhere near the boom-time peaks.

    The median age of a construction worker in Florida is 45, and as the industry's workforce ages, Dietz said, builders are struggling to attract new workers. That is especially true of such skills as framing, plumbing and electricial work.

    Mast says a study showed that 60 percent of the construction workforce will be retiring in five years.

    "We have to gain those bodies back," he said. "But it's not going to happen in five years. It will take 10 years."

    Neal Communities' Storey believes some high school students can't afford the local training programs to learn a trade. Others simply don't see the construction industry as a career.

    "We have to do a better job of conveying to these prospects that it is still a noble profession to be a plumber or an electrician or a carpenter," he said. "I think we've lost that."

    Attracting workers

    Neal Communities is beginning to research how to attract more young workers into the construction trades. "If college is not the path you're on, there are great opportunities over here," Storey said.

    The local Building Industry Association formed a partnership with Suncoast Technical College to work on the workforce shortfalls. Students in 12th grade who are not college bound are often candidates for the construction-trade courses taught at the college, Mast says, but it may be time to start talking with 9th graders about those options.

    Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida, said construction in the state has shown one of the strongest rebounds in the country.

    "The construction sector was devastated by the bursting of the housing bubble, with the number of jobs destroyed coming in at just under 347,000," he said. "The construction sector endured dramatic swings in this business cycle, having gone from the worst to first when it comes to the rate of job growth in Florida.

    "It is expected to remain one of the faster sectors for job growth among all industrial sectors in Florida's economy through the end of our 2019 forecast horizon," Snaith said.

    But the director of UCF's Institute for Economic Competitiveness revised downward the sector's outlook in his latest quarterly forecast.

    "Construction job growth is expected to decelerate over the short-run forecast horizon but will remain solid, even as housing starts growth decelerates," Snaith said. "Despite the deceleration in home construction growth, the still double-digit growth rates in housing starts in the near term will support construction job growth of 6.0 percent in 2016 and 4.5 percent in 2017, before easing to 3.2 percent in 2018 and 2.5 percent in 2019."


  • 27 Jun 2016 6:37 PM | Anonymous

    Builders exchange chairman chides EDC on communication abilities

    Last month, Sarasota County commissioners shot down a plan that would have given a national roofing company more than a million dollars in state and local tax breaks to move here and create 180 jobs.

    Paul Stehle is chairman of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange. He says it was an embarrassment for the Economic Development Corporation and it could have been avoided with better communication.

    Stehle says the EDC was off-base on two fronts. First off, he says they shouldn't be bringing in companies in the construction business and offer them a tax break.

    "It isn't about keeping out the competition, it's about giving them an unfair advantage. I'm an air conditioning contractor. If one wants to come to town, bring it on, I'm fine with that, but I'm not going to give them a tax incentive to do that," he said.

    "In the EDC's own words, they say the three pillars of Florida's economy are agriculture, tourism and construction. So what we should recruit to diversify the base is sectors outside those three areas," said Mary Dougherty, executive director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange.

    But Stehle says it's not just the wrong industry to recruit; he says it's also the way the EDC goes about business.

    "'No comment.' That's what I think. They don't comment very well. They don't bring themselves to talking to you," he explained.

    And he's not the only one who thinks the EDC didn't do well with the roofing corporate relocation, which they called Project Mulligan.

    "Communication is critical. We could say there was a misfiring of the spark plugs, the order of the firing of the spark plugs, but now we can look at it and see how we can make the process better," said Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo.

    We wanted to find out how the EDC President Mark Huey planned to make the process better for next time. We wanted to explain how the EDC chooses industries to pursue. However, after a flurry of emails where Huey wanted to know the questions asked as well as who else would be interviewed, Huey eventually declined to make himself available. We even offered to highlight a recent success story, any time, any day -- but he stopped responding.

    A week later, we tried again, and this time we were given the following statement:

    "The overarching goal of the EDC of Sarasota County is to be an assist with business growth throughout the community, from startups to established companies to those who are considering relocating here. The Board of County Commissioners may be revisiting certain policies and practices it has in place for attracting new and assisting local companies. There will be no further comment from the EDC on this matter until the Board of County Commissioners gives further direction on our next steps."

    Sources close to the EDC Board say at a recent management retreat, the word "communication" was stressed. We also reached out to two of the board members, but neither returned our phone calls.


  • 11 Feb 2016 6:41 PM | Anonymous

    Movers and Shakers: Gulf Coast Builder’s Exchange Members Support Local Arts Organization

    Three Six Oh PR•Thursday, Feb 11, 2016

    SARASOTA, Fla. – The Gulf Coast Builder’s Exchange (GCBX), a not-for-profit trade organization, recently hosted a New Year networking social to join current and prospective new members and preview a private piece from the Sarasota Opera.

    On Thursday, Jan. 28 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. almost 100 members gathered at the Sarasota Opera, prior to the opening show of the season, Aida, that Saturday. The event, catered by Nelli’s Deli, featured the stunning snippet by two of Sarasota Opera’s singers as well as networking.

    “Our commercial contractors support arts and culture in our community,” said Mary Dougherty, the executive director of the Gulf Coast Builder’s Exchange. “Sarasota’s arts and culture organizations attract people and companies from around the globe so there is a natural synergy between businesses and groups like the Sarasota Opera.”

    The GCBX’s next event is the newly formatted 7th annual GCBX 500 on Wednesday, Feb. 24 from 5 – 8 p.m. at the Andersen Race Park in Palmetto. There will be great spectator and driver activities, including an endurance race for drivers. For tickets, visit www.GCBX.org.

    About The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange

    The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange was established in 1952 and is a not-for-profit corporation operating as a trade organization. Under the guidance of a volunteer Board of Directors, the organization’s philosophy of “members working with members” has been successful in helping individual members grow. This success has become the foundation for the continued development of the organization.

    The GCBX membership is comprised of over 300 companies in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. It includes some of the most respected contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, service providers and businesses in construction‑affiliated industries. For more information, visit www.GCBX.org.


  • 23 Jun 2014 6:43 PM | Anonymous

    Gulf Coast Builder’s Exchange Launches Proud to Build Campaign

    By Candice McElyea 

    The Gulf Coast Builder’s Exchange (GCBX), a not-for-profit trade organization, has launched the “Proud to Build” campaign to promote and support its diverse group of members.

    The campaign will be incorporated across several mediums including the GCBX website, e-mail marketing, social media and member initiatives.

    “Our members are an integral part of the economic development of the southwest Florida community, and this campaign will bring their stories to light,” said Mary Dougherty, executive director of the Lakewood Ranch-based trade organization. “Regardless of their specific profession within the building community, our members contribute to this region in so many ways – from smart growth initiatives to philanthropic efforts; we are proud of our strong and varied membership and are pleased to promote these efforts to the entire community,” said Dougherty.

    In partnership with Sarasota-based public relations firm 360 Degrees PR, the GCBX campaign will feature stories about members and their local history in the region, highlighting why they are proud to be a part of the building community.

    “The building industry recruits and retains strong young talent to the area,” said Russ Bobbitt, board chair of the GCBX and Partner/Agent at Purmort & Martin Insurance Agency. “These people are raising their families, paying taxes and volunteering in our community. The building industry certainly has a strong social and economic impact on our region. In addition to that, our members are improving the area by building with environmentally friendly, state-of-the-art structures,” said Bobbitt.

    Member stories will be displayed online at the GCBX website and shared through the Proud to Build Facebook page and Twitter accounts.


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