Construction Powers Job Gains in South Florida

It may not be a surprise to anyone who has looked at the skyline lately, but jobs in construction have been growing faster than any other sector in South Florida, according to statistics released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Market Statistics.

Eloise Gonzalez is especially happy to see the activity again. “We’re very optimistic — a lot of cranes are going up. ... We’re out there bidding,” said Gonzalez, whose company, Commercial Interior Contractors, specializes in flooring projects.

South Florida had nearly 68,000 more jobs in May 2014 than it did in May 2013, for a total of 2.41 million jobs. The growth occurred in nearly every sector, led by the 7.4 percent increase in construction and an 11 percent spike in the specialty trade contractors sector, which includes Gonzalez’ firm.

For the metropolitan area, job growth was also strong in larger sectors such as retail trade, up 3.8 percent, and professional services, up 3.2 percent for the year. Only federal job employment showed a significant decrease, down 2.7 percent or a loss of 900 jobs from May 2013 to May 2014. Overall, nonagricultural employment in the tri-county region rose 2.9 percent.

Despite the growth in the number of jobs, the unemployment rate rose slightly from April’s rates for the state, to 6.3 percent, and both Miami-Dade (to 7.4 percent) and Broward (to 5.2 percent) counties. The reason: More people in the labor force.

Miami-Dade gained 30,500 jobs in May 2014 over May 2013, the second-highest in the state, after Orlando. “We are encouraged by the year-over-year rate particularly since the gains cut across a variety of industries,” said Larry K. Williams, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, in a statement. “We will continue to work on diversifying the local economy to help minimize future downturns.”

The story was much the same for the state. Florida added 218,800 jobs, for a 2.9 percent gain since May 2013, with the construction sector again being the fastest-growing sector.

Between April and May of this year, both the state and South Florida lost a small number of jobs overall — 17,900 for the state, and 2,100 jobs for the region — but that’s just noise, said Mekael Teshome, PNC Bank's Florida Economist. “I didn’t see any bad news there. Overall, I am seeing a strong pickup in growth momentum across Florida, with the major driving industries gaining steam — housing, tourism and in-migration.”

In South Florida, Teshome said the rebound has been particularly strong, in part because the downturn was so deep, and that he expects the trend to continue.

But job gains do not always translate to lower unemployment rates because more people entered the workforce. “We are seeing people coming back to the labor force based on the fact that the economy is doing much better than years past,” said Jaap Donath, senior vice president of research and strategic planning for the Beacon Council.

Donath said 21,000 people joined the labor pool in Miami-Dade County last month, and noted the county’s job gains in construction, manufacturing and financial services.

In Miami-Dade, the only Florida county to report seasonally-adjusted unemployment rates, the jobless rate rose to 7.4 percent, up from 7.2 percent a month ago and down from 8.7 percent a year ago, Donath said. In Broward, unemployment in May stood at 5.2 percent, up slightly from 5.0 percent in April and down from 6.1 percent a year ago.

Florida's unemployment rate rose to 6.3 percent in May, up from 6.2 percent in April but down from 7.5 percent a year ago. The state’s jobless rate has been below or equal to the national unemployment rate for 13 consecutive months. Now with 9.63 million people, the state’s overall labor pool also grew last month.

While the recession hit Florida harder than most states, the ripple effects of this year’s job growth are already being felt. For instance, consumer spending in Florida grew 5.8 percent from last year, according to first-quarter data released earlier this week by Coral Gables-based Washington Economics Group. Single-family home and condo sales are also up.

That means more work for Gonzalez and other construction companies. The construction sector is expected to continue to boost the payroll ranks as 247 new condo towers with 33,417 units rise in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to, a division of Condo Vultures LLC.

Gonzalez’ company now employs 14 but was down to only a handful during the worst months of the recent recession and up to 40 in the best of times. She said she survived the last recession partly because of a Miami International Airport contract signed before the recession hit. “This was my third recession — I don’t want to do this again,” said Gonzalez, who founded her company in 1984.

Gonzalez said she has more master craftsmen ready to work and she been bidding on some of the new condo projects as well as a medical center project and government contracts: “We’re ready to go.”

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