1. Business

Trigaux: Where did all the construction workers go? Florida builders can't find them

Skilled construction workers are in short supply in Florida, where builders are having a tough time filling jobs as demand for development climbs. One builder called it an "epidemic." (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) NYBZ912
Published Aug. 29, 2015

With construction cranes and new home building becoming ever more familiar sights in Florida, it's getting tougher to find skilled workers to keep up with rising demand.

Small wonder. Florida added 4,800 construction jobs in July — more than any other state.

In the past 12 months, Florida's gain of 26,500 construction jobs was second only to larger California, according to a recent analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data by the Associated General Contractors of America. The findings show an uneven national rebound in construction. While the Florida economy is a clear beneficiary, other states saw sharp declines in construction jobs, led by New York's 4,500 job loss in July and Ohio's 13,800 decline in the past year.

Florida's building boomlet, though, is driving up wages, which in turn adds to the final cost of commercial buildings and new homes. Average hourly earnings for construction labor were up 2.6 percent annually in July, compared with 2.1 percent for all U.S. workers. Those wage bumps have not stemmed the increase in spot shortages of carpenters and, especially in the South, plumbers and electricians.

"I would go so far as to call it an epidemic," National Association of Home Builders CEO Jerry Howard told USA Today this week. The shortages have helped drive up new home prices an average 5.7 percent over the past 12 months.

In Florida, the numbers reflect the state's ongoing struggle to rebuild a construction workforce that lost more than half of its jobs during the recession as skilled workers fled to states like North Dakota and Texas to find employment.

"We are badly in need of skilled laborers to fill the gaps now that construction jobs are booming again, specifically plumbers, electricians and drywall finishers," Doreen DiPolito, owner and president of Clearwater's D-Mar General Contracting, told trade magazine Builder this summer. Her firm, in addition to handling home building, also works on projects with McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and Quiznos, among other companies.

"The shortage is horrible. It is hard to find people to work," she said. "Definitely a different story than a few years ago."

Contact Robert Trigaux at


  1. Frances Werner-Watkins Julie Rinaldi
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Left to right: Oak Hill Hospital Anesthesiology residents Daniel Eskander, Wayne Simmons, Jeffrey Huang and Benjamin Segil. Katie Stacy/Oak Hill Hospital
    News and notes on local businesses
  3. A total of 131 employees are scheduled to be laid off in January as Locale Market and Farm Table Cucina close at the Sundial to make way for a new food hall created by the developers of the Heights Public Market at the Armature Works in Tampa. CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES
    In a notice to the state of Florida, Sundial owner Bill Edwards said the layoffs are expected to take place the first week of January.
  4. WeWork is opening Tampa offices at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. despite company struggles, including $1.25 billion in losses over 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    WeWork has 200 planned coworking space openings as leadership tries to manage $1.25 billion in losses.
  5. Florida's unemployment rate was unchanged in October at 3.2 percent, according to numbers released Friday. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The latest numbers were released Friday morning.
  6. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  7. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  8. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  9. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  10. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.