Labor shortage could delay storm repairs

A home damaged by the storm. (July 7, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A shortage of skilled laborers may delay home repairs in Kentwood and Wyoming after Sunday night’s storm and tornado.

Demand has outpaced supply in the home construction market. It’s leading to higher wages, longer wait times and what some say is a glut of shoddy players.

“A lot of us have backlogs already and when we get storm damage clients and their need is elevated, we have to start triage who do we do first,” said Ken Bird, who owns Ken Bird Roofing.

One of Bird’s crews was expected to replace a roof on a Grand Rapids house in a single day Tuesday, and they already had jobs lined up for the next three days.

Bird said he had a total of about 60 and 70 workers on a number of jobs. He said he could easily hire 50 more.

The shortage of skilled labor is being seen across the industry. One plumber told 24 Hour News 8 it took him longer than two years to hire one qualified worker.

“Very busy. We have no end in sight for the orders for the homes and buyers for them. We just need the people,” said John Bitely, president of Sable Homes.

In the market for new homes, interest rates and pent up demand are fueling new jobs. Bitely said the recession pushed a lot of older workers out of the business and that the next generation was never properly trained.

That leaves him without the help he needs.

“I don’t know anybody, whether it’s our subcontractors or ourselves, who doesn’t have openings,” Bitely said.

Now, with a six-mile swath of new work carved out by the tornado, people in the West Michigan construction business are concerned about the caliber of contractors who may come calling.

“My advice to the homeowner would be wait and use someone local and licensed and reputable,” Bitely said. “Let us accommodate you and let us service you, but please wait for us so that we can A) have that work and B) you are not going to get a shoddy job and have to hire us down the road to come and fix it.”

And Zeeland Lumber Truss and Components, one of the largest suppliers of roof trusses in the area, sustained serious damage to its Clay Avenue facility in Wyoming during the storm. A contractor said the damage to Zeeland Lumber is only going to increase wait times for those materials, which was already sitting at a couple of week.

The Home Builders Association of Grand Rapids is trying to lure young people into the skilled trades.



The Home Builders Association of Grand Rapids

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