Home construction business picks up

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Wall Street hit a pothole Friday.

The Dow lost 40 points on news that the economy added just 88,000 jobs in March. Economists expected more than twice as many. Unemployment dipped to 7.6 percent, only because analysts say more people quit looking for work.

Behind those gloomy numbers there are new jobs to be found, in of all places, home construction. An industry laid low by the recession is searching for skilled workers.

After limping along for years, the home building industry in central Indiana is running to keep up. Matt Day pours and finishes concrete.

"There are 40-, 50-, 60-hour weeks, sometime even 70," he said. "We work seven days a week. It is constant construction work."

The Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis says the number of new home building permits in the nine-county area is up 40 percent from last year.

Ryland Homes president Alan Goldsticker says the company is off to its best building season in seven years. Its staff has increased 15 percent. But sub-contractors, he says, are already stretched thin.

"Right now, we are getting by. There is a concern there will be a lack of workers," he added.

Indianapolis area contractors say they are already having trouble finding skilled workers. Five years of recession and recovery took its toll.

The company Chuck Churney works for laid off 80 percent of its employees. The electrician and father of two held on.

"It was a struggle, barely getting by with the minimums," he said.

Juan Nunez is a framer. Most of his co-workers, he says, gave up and left. He supported a family of five by working numerous non-construction jobs.

"It was very, very difficult," Nunez said softly, "but it is good now."

It's good for a lot of businesses. Walk through an unfinished kitchen and think of everything it needs. A sink, a refrigerator, a stove, oven, dishwasher, microwave. All of those products have to made by someone, shipped by someone, sold by someone, installed by someone.

Moving companies and mortgage companies are also benefiting from the turn around and are examples of how important home construction is to rebuilding the economy.

Now that Day is working full-time and overtime again, his family is spending money on necessities they put off buying for years.

"I bought a new car, I bought new appliances, I actually purchased a house," he said through a big smile. "It's a blessing to have all this work right now."

Here's the flip side. The building spurt is increasing salaries and building costs. By one industry estimate, new home prices could jump as much as seven percent by the end of the year.