The dirt piling up on building sites around Hall County is a signal the construction business that began a slowdown in 2008 is picking up.
“Companies are dusting off plans from 2007, 2008, and it’s finally nice to see the confidence in some businesses that need to invest in real estate construction projects,” said Perry Barnett, partner at Rushton and Co.
Barnett, who advises construction firms in Gainesville, saw firsthand what the slowdown did to local companies.
“During the recession, construction basically stopped. A lot of construction contractors, unfortunately, went out of business.”
Those that didn’t go out of business had to adjust.
“The ones that continued to stay in business shifted to other things, whether it was home improvement or home remodeling. That’s what’s kept a lot of these home contractors in business,” he said.
Now that there are more construction projects in Hall, that shift in focus is proving to be a problem.
“Now it’s very tough for a lot of the construction companies to find skilled laborers,” Barnett said. “These skilled tradespeople that have been in the construction industry have moved on to other jobs.”
This lack of labor is no surprise to Renee Forbes, whose company, Sullivan and Forbes, has been doing custom home remodeling in the community since 1986.
“When they see that the builder they’re doing all this work for is not producing new homes, people panic, and rightfully so,” she said. “People had to find other ways to support their families.”
Barnett works with some of the subcontractors who have had to find work in other ways, with many of them choosing to leave Hall County altogether.
“They can be based in Hall County, but their geographic reach is well beyond,” he said. “It may be slower here, but if it’s better in another area of the country, then they’re able to do those projects.”
With a smaller skilled labor pool, new construction projects are having to find subcontractors in different ways.
“Basically, they’ll lease employees. If you go hire all these people, you get these new (contracts) — what about after those jobs? Will they have anything else?” Barnett said. “They aren’t real eager to go out and hire 200 employees again until the work is going to stick.”
A way of leasing subcontractors is through a temp agency like Labor Ready. Its Gainesville branch opened two years ago on Skelton Road.
“We get calls whenever they need extra workers, and we send them to the job site,” said Lisa Gillespie, branch manager.
She sees laborers of all skill sets, including skilled subcontractors who have been in the construction business for years.
“The majority of them, the jobs they previously had slowed down, and they weren’t getting enough hours,” she said. “They’re just looking for more work.”
Most recently, Labor Ready had employed subcontractors to work on the new Kroger on Jesse Jewell and Limestone parkways.
Another of Gainesville’s current busy work sites is Cresswind at Lake Lanier subdivision off Browns Bridge Road.
“We’ve been adding workers as the market continues to get better. We hire to meet the demand,” said Mike Primato, director of construction for the community. “Last year we closed over 100 homes and expect to close over 100 more. “The success of the community and the growing amount of sales has indicated a growing amount of employees.”