As Florida’s construction industry experiences a strong resurgence following the housing crash and subsequent economic downturn, scores of builders are having difficulty filling key roles with skilled workers—and many are tapping out-of-state workers to meet their needs. This trend has inspired Doreen DiPolito—owner and president of D-Mar General Contracting in Clearwater, Fla.—to step up efforts to hire local workers.

Doreen DiPolito
Doreen DiPolito

Florida’s construction industry was hit particularly hard during the recession. While overall employment in Florida declined 11.5% from the pre-recession peak to its low point, the state lost over half of its construction industry jobs, as employment fell a whopping 53.3%. As a result, scores of experienced construction workers left Florida to seek jobs in Texas, North Dakota, and other states with greater opportunities.

Today, Florida is experiencing a building boom; in fact, the state led the nation in new construction hires last year. Of 39 states with increases in construction industry hires between September 2013 and September 2014, Florida added 41,900 new jobs, for an 11.2% increase and the highest construction job creation in the U.S. Southwest Florida added 1,700 more construction workers between December 2013 and December 2014, for a 10% year-over-year gain, and officials with the Associated General Contractors of America predict continued expansion in 2015. Ironically, such growth presents a challenge to employers who are finding it increasingly difficult to fill local construction positions with qualified workers—leading many to expand their hiring search to include out-of-state laborers.

DiPolito asserts that keeping construction hiring local is essential to rebuilding Florida’s economy, particularly in the Southwest region. Construction jobs not only offer workers high-wage opportunities, but they boost the local economy with the many ancillary jobs created by increased demand for local goods and services. D-Mar General Contracting and Development has achieved success in hiring local workers for major projects throughout the state of Florida with nationally known franchises, such as McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Quiznos, Wendy’s and Arby’s. In addition, the firm works on high-end custom homes throughout the state.

“During the recession, construction projects in Florida came to a near standstill, and we saw a great deal of talent leave the state,” said DiPolito. “Now, the industry is booming, and opportunities for high-skill, high-wage positions abound for individuals interested in learning the construction trade. My passion is making sure that local workers—especially women and other under-represented groups—benefit from these opportunities, creating a win-win-win situation for the industry, the workers and the local economy.”

Here, BUILDER talks with DiPolito about how she finds and keeps qualified, local labor.

What has caused the current labor shortage in your area?
Workers went to other states when the recession hit. There wasn’t enough work here for them, so they followed the jobs out of Florida. There also was a lack of hiring opportunities for local contractors for big jobs, so hiring out-of-state contractors for work became necessary – that pushes the work out of the area. We are badly in need of skilled laborers to fill the gaps now that construction jobs are booming again, specifically plumbers, electricians, and dry wall finishers. The shortage is horrible. It is hard to find people to work. Definitely a different story than a few years ago.

What are your top five strategies for finding new, qualified labor?
--Reposting job ads on Craig’s List
--Getting the word out in the media, especially social media
--Word of mouth
--Staffing agencies (they are expensive)
--Utilizing the local Chamber of Commerce

How do you locate workers for out-of-state projects?
I have had to assemble subs for jobs in Phoenix, Arizona, and New York. The best strategy is to partner with another general contractor in those areas to do the legwork and find employees. It is important to try and hire locally for all jobs in all locations. This is where you can use the local Chambers of Commerce and Craig’s List. I find that Craig’s List is the best and most active source for workers.

Do you think the president’s recent action on immigration will have an effect on labor in your area?
Immigrant workers are a key percentage of who this industry hires – there is a need for their participation in the U.S. economy. Our employees are all on the books and are paid properly. Some in the industry pay cash and undercut what they should be paid. I don’t know what long-term effect this will have on the labor in Tampa Bay, but a poor plan for immigration hurts the industry and the economy if not done correctly.