Local homebuilders struggle to fill jobs after Great Recession

KENT COUNTY, MICH. - It's been roughly nine years since the Great Recession hit and while the market bounced back, developers are having a hard time keeping up with demand -- they don't have enough hands to build. 

"There's a lot of really good people that got wiped out in that terrible recession; we made it through," John Bitely said. But now, the president of Sable Developing is dealing with different issues.

"With the downturn 6-8 years ago it was very discouraging, it was hard to get excited coming into the skilled trades," he said. "Now, we're paying the price for it because no one was trained, nobody started into it, so we have a shortage." 

Bitely isn't the only one experience fewer workers: according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders the most significant problem builders are facing is cost and availability of labor.

"The home site we see behind us," says Bitely as he pointed to a home under construction near Rockford, "we're waiting for the carpenters to come.

"They got to get done with their other jobs so they can get here, we have lumber waiting, we have the foundation, we're waiting for them as fast as they can go."

An problem proven in the numbers, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics shows nearly 200,000 construction job openings in February 2017.

But that isn't the only issue. Bitely says red tape from some local governing boards, when trying to build on lots, increases prices.

"When I started Sable homes 25 years ago, we'd buy a piece of property and anywhere from six months to a year we were building homes on that property," he said.  

"Now when we buy raw land, we plan two almost four years in advance before we know we'll be building homes.

"There is just a crazy overhead that's incurred for a development company and that gets passed on to the consumer."

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