Will Florida see construction jobs boom? Moody's says yes, others, no

Hammer and nails could be flying off the shelves next year if the predictions of one economic forecaster come true.

But other economists aren’t so bullish.

Moody’s Analytics anticipates that construction jobs will grow by nearly 27 percent across the state and 45 percent in the Tampa Bay area by the end of third quarter next year. Moody’s also expects Florida to see a 3 percent increase in job growth, compared with 1.1 percent nationally.

Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner, who closely tracks Florida, doesn’t expect the state to outpace the rest of the nation. He predicts about 150,000 new jobs, a 2.1 percent increase.

In a state littered with thousands of vacant building and homes, Vitner doesn't see a building boom in the near future. But any new construction will help, he added.

"It won't take much to move the needle," Vitner said.

The director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida predicts bigger job gains in 2012 and 2013. Sean Snaith looks for growth in white-collar work, the trade/transportation fields and the health care sector. But not the construction industry, he said.

As for 2011, Snaith added: "It's going to be pretty slow.

Florida construction has been hit harder by the Great Recession than any other field — almost cut in half since 2006 with the loss of more than 300,000 jobs.

A Moody's economist acknowledges the real estate surplus in Florida but predicts more people to flock here in the next year as the national outlook improves. That, coupled with increased buying power of consumers, healthy corporate balance sheets and improved financing, will sprout more jobs, Chris Lafakis said.

He pointed out that building permits are now 90 percent lower than before the collapse of the real estate market. Supply-and-demand will be a leading factor in near future, he said.

"We can only sell off so much excess inventory," he said. "At some point, people have to start buying cars and homes."

Although much has changed in Florida since 2006, one thing hasn't.

The sunshine and warm temperatures will again draw retirees and working-age people from across the country and abroad, Lafakis added. One of the biggest benefactors will be the sticks-and-bricks industry, he said.

"Florida is a trendsetter in the nation," he said. "It will be one of the fastest growing states in the next five years."

Locally, Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, said any increase in construction jobs will help the troubled market.

Still, he cautioned that any uptick could be the result of the industry being decimated in the last several years. Moody's predictions seem ambitious, Brown said: "There's a big mountain to climb."

Pat Neal, president of Neal Communities in Lakewood Ranch, agrees with Moody's predictions. He attributes an increase of jobs to interest rates and low home prices. The company, he said, will build 255 homes this year and about 388 next year, creating the need for more workers.

"The Great Recession has bottomed out," he said. "It's time to buy."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8459.

•Construction: Up 26.7 percent

•Natural resources and mining: Up 4.6 percent

•Professional and business services: Up 3.5 percent

•Leisure and hospitality: Up 3.4 percent

•Educational and health services: Up 3.1 percent

Source: Moody's Economy.com via USA Today

Will Florida see construction jobs boom? Moody's says yes, others, no 11/10/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 11, 2010 5:48pm]

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