A good, long-term construction job is still hard to come by in North Carolina. That wasn’t the case just a few years ago when the industry was growing as fast as the state’s population. Today – a lot of the projects in motion are moving ahead with bond money or private funding approved before the economic downturn. One construction site that has put many people back to work is in Chatham County.
There are some signs of recovery – but overall, the construction industry in North Carolina remains sluggish and mostly un-changed.
Numbers compiled by Carolinas Associated General Contractors of America show in the past year – building construction activity in the state had dropped by half.
Tony Plath: "On the commercial side for C&D – Construction and Development or land acquisition and development of a building, multi-family housing – those things are just all but dead."
Tony Plath is a Professor of Finance at U-N-C Charlotte. He says the state’s construction industry has suffered more than any other industry during this economic downturn – mainly because at one time – it was doing so well.
Tony Plath: "Simply because we had more construction activity that was underway, given the growth in the state’s economy over the course of the last 10 years. So, because there was more work here – there were more projects in progress here, so we had farther to fall."
And it’s been a hard fall. In December 2007 – the start of the recession – there were 252-thousand North Carolinians working in construction. The latest numbers from the Employment Security Commission show the state has lost 82-thousand construction jobs since then.
A major expansion project at Galloway Ridge in Chatham County is well past the half-way mark. It’s advertised as a “luxury retirement community” at Fearrington. It falls into one of the few categories that is doing well in this economy – health care. Galloway Ridge is adding 66 apartments and a villa – but it’s also adding 55 beds to its on-site health care center. Pat Richardson is a spokeswoman for Galloway Ridge. She says it took two years to secure financing for this expansion, which began last fall. She says the units had to be 70-percent sold.
Pat Richardson: "We have people who are moving here from Boston, a lot of folks move here from New York. As we know NC is big attraction state for northerners. A lot of people move here from Michigan, we have a lot of people that move her from Fearrington Village, right next door to us."
The Galloway expansion is said to be one of the largest construction sites in the state. Michael Burton owns Burton’s Services out of Mocksville, North Carolina. He and his workers do just about everything.
Michael Burton: "We do, from damp proofing, water proofing, commercial caulking, fire stopping, pipe insulation, duct racking, parking lot striping, interior-exterior painting."
And they’re busy too. Burton says they just finished up some work at U-N-C Greensboro and at North Carolina A&T. He’s part of a six year project at three new hospitals in the western part of the state and soon he’ll be working on the new Moses Cone surgery center. Burton says he’s blessed – but it’s been hard.
Michael Burton: "It kind of stutters sometimes but a lot of stuff, the way it was, residential it hit dead stop. But commercial, a lot when the crunch hit, a lot of the commercial stuff was already sold out and there was already funding for it. So, it was already funding for it so jobs went on for a couple of years."
It’s a matter of making the work stretch. The Ornelas Family knows this well. There are several Ornelas men working at the Galloway site. Lucas Ornelas supervises his sons and brothers who are laborers, passing bricks and cement to the brick-layers.
Lucas Ornelas: "Not much work right now, I’m lucky to having this job because the last two years, I didn’t work because there is no work, but I am lucky to have this job."
The Galloway project has employed as many as 250 construction workers. Still, national numbers show North Carolina is ranked 41st in the country for construction employment right now. When the industry comes back – it’s expected to come back strong. But that could be years from now.