In the recession many contractors left for jobs like truck driving. I don’t think they will return to construction even as their prospects improve.
I’m not talking about the large contracting firms. I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of small contractors who do the majority of the work. Many contractors, like roofers, framers, plumbers and painters want to get out of construction.
There is a labor shortage that challenges the growth of new construction and remodeling.
I was interviewing a contractor with a six-person firm who paints for both builders and homeowners, as well as the occasional light commercial project. He got in the business in the late nineties and watched as his business grew each year. He and his wife started a family and bought a house. They took vacations and even joined a neighborhood country club.
They weren’t living beyond their means. They just saw their income rise every year. Life was good. Then the downturn hit. At first they thought they could weather the storm. They couldn’t imagine it could be that deep or last that long. As things worsened, they let people go and tightened their belts. The contractor, who had advanced to managing his firm, making calls, estimating and scheduling, was back with a brush in his hand. His wife also went back to work.
As things continued to get worse, even all these changes weren’t enough. There just wasn’t any work. They were in danger of losing their home. The contractor decided to make a big change and go where he thought there was some work. He left his family behind and drove his van from Ohio to Key West, Florida. He told me how he had tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to wife and young children.
Because of his work ethic and quality, he found enough work to keep the family afloat. He came home after four months away from his family and found enough local work for the next six months. As work began to dry up, he went back to Florida, by himself, again.
Now that things are turning around and he’s hiring again, I asked if he was glad to be making money again. He looked at me and said that he can’t wait to get out of the business as soon as possible. He told me he is actively looking for a new career and is even considering going back to school.
A contractor told me no matter how good it could be, that he never wanted to put himself or his family through that again.
I thought that this was probably just one person’s feelings. A few weeks later, I was with a small plumbing contractor in Colorado, who told me almost the same thing, except he didn’t have to leave his family. He told me that it took it all out of him and he also can’t wait to find something else, even as his business improves.
The recession took a toll on everyone, but it looks like it was especially hard on the small contractor. And these two are ones who made it through when thousands of small contractors didn’t. Let’s hope that business gets better faster than these small contractors can find a way out.