MANATEE -- Home builders in Manatee-Sarasota who survived the Great Recession now have their hands full with new construction.
"Everyone has more than enough work," said Alan Anderson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association Manatee-Sarasota.
Not that they don't face a new array of challenges. Among them: an aging workforce and a shortage of skilled workers.
The downturn forced builders to scale back, downsize and, in some cases, go out of business.
Out-of-work tradesmen, whose average age was in the mid-50s five years ago, either sold their construction tools and looked for other work or moved. They went to places like Georgia, North Carolina or Texas, which were not as devastated by the downturn as Florida.
They never returned, Anderson said.
Many of those tradesmen who survived the downturn and continue to work locally are now in their 60s.
"There is a critical, critical shortage of people who are trained and have the craftsmanship to do the work," said Mary Cantrell, director of Manatee Technical Institute. "This is not just a local problem, this is a national problem."
Cantrell is seeing an increase in demand for MTI's cabinet-making, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, masonry, and heating and air conditioning classes.
Heating and air conditioning and electrical are among the most in-demand classes at MTI and have among the highest placement rates, she said.
"Our trades and our vendors were not immune to the downturn," said David C. Hunihan, director of sales for Neal Communities, who also serves as HBA president this year.
Now that home-building is rebounding, the demand for tradesmen outstrips the supply, Hunihan said.
"We have a much smaller workforce. Good quality labor is always in demand, but especially now," Hunihan said.
Masons and drywall workers are especially in short supply, and builders often have to go outside the area to find them, Anderson said.
Mindful that Bradenton-Sarasota and the rest of Florida will continue to be a retirement destination for the baby boom generation -- a 68 million demographic -- some
one will need to continue building homes for decades to come.
There are now seven Future Builders of America chapters in Manatee schools to expose students to the building trades, Anderson said, dismissing the stereotype of the building trades.
"Not everyone needs to swing a hammer," Anderson noted.
Hunihan sees great interest among students of the building trades.
"There are a lot of different ways for young men and women to match their skills with opportunities," Hunihan said.
The trades offer hard work, Hunihan acknowledged, but also an opportunity for a young person to own a business.
Anderson came on board the HBA as executive vice president in 2008, just as the economy was in a free fall.
"It hasn't been a lot of fun," Anderson said.
With the improving economic outlook, the HBA also wants to rebuild its own decimated ranks.
In 2007, the HBA had about 600 members. Today, it has about 300.
With a rebound under way, HBA members are reaching out to those they do business with, and encouraging them to join the association, he said.
Hunihan says a strong core of members remained intact through the downturn.
"We're reviving a past presidents council. We are calling upon them for their guidance. There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement," Hunihan said.