In her 22 years as a contractor, Michelle Griffin, with Bella Casa Renovations in Tallahassee, has never been more busy. She’s booked solid for an entire year.
“I had a homeowner call that said she wanted thee bathrooms renovated by Thanksgiving,” Griffin said with a chuckle. “I said, ‘This year, or next?’”
Hurricane Michael is what’s helping drive the boom. The powerful category five storm has siphoned off some of Griffin’s competition. Fellow contractors have taken off to do repair work.
It’s good and bad. With Griffin is making money, she’s lacking skilled subcontractors. Plumbers, electricians, those types of laborers.
Recovery from Michael is also likely pulling hundreds of those craftsmen away, statewide. Some are making four times as much for storm repairs than they would staying put. It’s slowing Griffin’s projects down by weeks.
“We all say, I think we’re finally getting caught up,” she said. “Then, two, three weeks later, we’re crying on the phone saying, I don’t think we’ll ever get caught up.”
When Michael hit Florida’s panhandle, about eight months ago, the state and nation were already facing a craft-worker shortage, spurred by the housing collapse years earlier. The shortage was so bad, only month’s before the storm made landfall, surveys by the Associated General Contractors of America suggested 80% of U.S. contractors were struggling to fill spots.
Jay Bostwick, a sales VP at Sperry and Associates and a North Florida Associated Builders and Contractors board member, said he’s never seen anything like what’s happening in the industry following Michael. The biggest issue, costs are climbing in unprecedented hikes due to the heavy demand for skilled workers.
“Within the last year, like 30/35% more than where we were,” Bostwick said. “I’m not sure what the answer is.”
Bostwick suggested more skilled workers could fill the void in the construction industry and drop costs, but said a change in culture would need to come first. He said recruiting younger generations into the skilled-labor workforce has been difficult, as many prefer to pursue four-year degrees after high school.
“That’s not likely going to happen overnight,” Bostwick said. “It’s going to be awhile."
Bostwick also warned, due to the heightened demand, consumers should make sure they’re still hiring someone properly licensed. Cutting corners is often how many end up getting scammed.