Building revival in Arizona sparks bidding wars for workers
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While D.J. Hughes hunts for carpenters to join his team at a Phoenix area house-framing company, competitors are tracking down his workers at building sites and offering them more money.
"Everybody is trying to pull crews from everyone," said Mr. Hughes, 43, a project manager for J.L. Baugh Construction in Gold Canyon, Ariz., who admits to a couple attempts at poaching framers from rival contractors. "I've been doing this for a quarter of a century and this is the biggest shortage of skilled laborers I have ever seen."
After being decimated by the housing crash, Arizona's builders are now scrounging for workers as demand for new homes climbs. Building permits are at an almost-three-year high, creating a scarcity of framers, roofers and masons, many of whom moved elsewhere when work dried up. Laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration only added to the shortage by pushing experienced laborers out of the state.
Construction jobs, which also include commercial and government projects, increased 9.3 percent in May from a year earlier to 120,300, the biggest gain of any industry in the state, according to Arizona's Office of Employment and Population Statistics. Nationally, industry employment rose 0.4 percent.
The average hourly wage for construction workers in Arizona increased to $20.72 from $19.53 a year earlier, according to the state agency.
Arizona was among the areas hit hardest by the housing crash. Home prices in April were down about 47 percent from the peak in 2006, more than the 31 percent decline nationally, data from CoreLogic Inc. show. The state ranked second in the rate of foreclosure filings last month, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Building jobs have declined by more than half since 2006.
"The industry is so wound down that it's hard to flip the switch on and build as many homes as there is demand right now," said Ben Sage, director of the Arizona region for Metrostudy, a Houston-based firm that tracks new construction. "The subcontractors are scrambling for workers."
"It's busy," said Mr. Hughes, the project manager. "But everybody still has their hands behind their back, crossing their fingers that this continues."
First Published June 25, 2012 12:00 am