It’s that time of year when people are reflecting on the past and making resolutions for change in the future. In Sarasota County, as we move forward into 2018, we have a lot to look forward to, including a continued strong economy. A robust economy equals more jobs and a thriving and sustained quality of life in our region. As the executive director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, I am humbled by and proud of the many ways our organizations have helped further these goals year after year since inception.
In 1952, a small group formed an organization to serve the needs of local contractors. That small group quickly grew into a larger organization, and in 2018, the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange will continue its mission and a recurring resolution to address the needs of our members and this amazing community.
Throughout 2017, our Sarasota County lawmakers made progress in many significant areas, such as the Unified Development Code and Land Development Regulations. The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange members will continue to assist on these critical construction-industry topics. While there has been progress, there are also problems that we must address. One of those problems is the persistent labor shortage in the construction industry.
According to a new analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America, construction employment increased by 30,000 jobs in December to the highest level since September 2008. Florida alone added 35,800 construction jobs between August 2016 and August 2017.
As construction projects rise, we will see an increase in prices and jobs may be delayed, hindering progress if this labor shortage continues. With this shortage, firms cannot bid on certain jobs simply because they do not have the manpower. Finding a solution to this is an ongoing goal for us in 2018.
In 2017, the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange hosted the first Construction Rodeo, where GCBX members hired more than 15 students from that event alone. On March 20, we will hold our second to teach graduating seniors who are not college bound about construction-related career opportunities.
In fact, 75 percent of construction firms plan to expand their payrolls in 2018, said the AGC, but more than half of those firms are having difficulty filling their hourly craft and salaried openings.
In order to truly address this issue, we must acknowledge the elephant in the room. A lack of affordable housing is a major barrier to overcoming the labor shortage. Unfortunately, in this area, we continually take two steps forward and three steps back. This multifaceted problem will need a multifaceted approach. It’s one that our area has been struggling with for some time, it’s not a problem that we can solve overnight, but it is a problem we must solve.
We have some of the best and brightest minds here in Sarasota, and if anyone can solve this issue, it will be done here. The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange is committed to collaborating on this issue and listening to various ideas on how to tackle it.
On Feb. 1, our members will gather to discuss important topics like this at our 66th Annual Installation and Award Dinner. Guests will hear from Keynote Speaker Jimmy Patronis, Chief Financial Officer of Florida, on the financial health of Florida. After all, Sarasota and Manatee Counties’ financial health is intertwined with the financial condition of the State of Florida.
We look forward to serving the members of GCBX and the community and are committed to a collaborative approach to resolve the pressing issues facing the construction industry and the community and to finding creative solutions for our most pressing challenges now and for years to come.
Mary Dougherty is executive director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange.