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Out of work: As construction jobs vanish, builders face harsh new reality (access required)

By Bea Quirk CHARLOTTE — With the Associated General Contractors of America reporting that construction employment in North Carolina is down almost 20 percent, most industry experts believe it will take a long time to climb out of the hole. According to the AGC, the state’s construction jobs fell to 187,800 in October, a drop of nearly 19.5 percent from a year ago and a 3.4 percent decline from September. Few observers expect any signs of a recovery until the latter part of 2010. Even then, they say, the turnaround will be slow and rocky, resulting in companies closing as they can no longer hold on. Those that survive will be working in a markedly changed environment. Stephen Seger, 40, has worked in the construction industry 20 years, but was recently laid off for the first time in his career. About two months ago, six of his 10-man crew lost their jobs at Southern Door Supply. Seger said he hopes to find another job in construction, but he is contemplating going to school to change careers. “Construction is a vicious cycle — you build a lot and then build nothing; it bellies up and comes back,” he said. “But I’ve never seen it this bad. Once the banks stopped making money, they stopped spending, and it snowballed.” Metro Charlotte lost 12,300 construction-industry jobs between October 2008 and October 2009, according to an AGC analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That amounts to a 23 percent decline in local construction employment, which now totals 43,100 jobs in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord metropolitan area. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my 23 years of business,” said Steve Gennett, president of the Carolinas AGC. “We’re thinking it will be the third quarter of 2010 before there’s even a suggestion things might turn around.”

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