During the week of Oct. 8, some renovation and repair companies at work in the Wilmington area were moving the pieces of their logistics puzzle around to send workers to areas in Florida, Alabama and Georgia that were about to be slammed by Hurricane Michael.
The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10 as a Category 4 hurricane that was nearly a Category 5, causing massive devastation, before weakening rapidly and bringing wind and some rain to South Carolina and North Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Cape Fear region remains in recovery mode after Hurricane Florence caused wind and flooding damage throughout the area. Asked about how the labor market, which was already tight, is withstanding, officials expressed optimism.
“Florence certainly caused a major disruption for many of our members, and now with much of our attention focused on recovery we are certainly seeing that there is a lot of post storm renovation-remodel work that must take place. At the early onset, roofing and general framing are the two greatest needs that we have seen a tremendous demand for,” said Cameron Moore, executive officer of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association. “Knowing that the workload is only going to grow we have already started a conversation with the North Carolina Home Builders Association to put together a call to action to the entire membership statewide to assess what subcontracting needs may be needed in the weeks, months ahead.”
Looking to the future, Moore said, “There are surely areas where we could we could see our labor force stretched thin and working within the framework of other HBAs across the state would mean that we continue to get folks with local knowledge, expertise and the correct North Carolina licensing credentials and proper insurance requirements. This has even been true on the inspector’s side as NCDOI’s [N.C. Department of Insurance] marketplace has been instrumental in getting many of our local inspection departments back on track with day-to-day operations. This was crucial as it got our trades, vendors and builders back to work, and got paychecks flowing again.”
Dave Spetrino, president of WCFHBA and founder of PBC Design + Build, said homebuilders are working with a number of individuals as well as firms from outside the area.
“Most are laborers from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, some from Florida. Insurance is a priority, more so than licensing. I will say that the subcontractors/vendors that we’ve encountered have been professional, knowledgeable and strong managers,” Spetrino said. “Keep in mind, we’re dealing with structures – not trees or tree removal, etc. The managers of these firms that have traveled to our area have experienced many other disasters. So while some of us may start to feel overwhelmed, the crews we’ve encountered have been able to stay focused on the task at hand; they aren’t getting distracted by the emotional or direct financial toll that is occurring around them.”
Local HBA officials have been working to get the word out that those who are in rebuild mode should make sure they are using licensed contractors to avoid scams.
“We have heard of some isolated reports [of scams], but for the most part we would not characterize anything as being rampant. However, we know that these types of things are going to happen so the association has really jumped out there and has being really proactive,” Moore said. “The association has put together a post-storm recovery page with critical links on frequently asked questions and is driving a lot of the consumer calls, emails and overall traffic to that site [wcfhba.com/ post-storm-recovery]. As of Monday of this week [Oct. 8], the association started a multi-faceted social media campaign specifically aimed to consumers in the three-county area of Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender. The campaign’s main focus is to showcase the contract and license requirements within the state of North Carolina and to direct consumers to local contractors within our region.”
Moore said the association has also “seen a strong showing from the N.C. Department of Insurance and the North Carolina general contracting licensing board with pertinent updates on license requirements that have been specifically targeted to consumers in the affected counties.”
Spetrino said his company hasn’t encountered any scams and isn’t a traditional target for them. But he has seen varying costs with respect to one task that has been necessary in all parts of the region.
“I did talk to three different firms as it related to tree removal for some of our projects and the range of numbers was fascinating. We saw prices for the same work from $350 to $2,000. However, that range also narrowed quickly by the time you got to day seven or 10 after the storm,” Spetrino said in an email. “Human nature is fascinating to me; I watched some people pay ‘any price’ to get their repairs handled immediately. They couldn’t stand the damage, seeing it, living around it – it didn’t matter if the municipality is going to pick up the debris in a few weeks, they wanted it off their lawn today and they paid whatever the cost to do so. That’s certainly not the norm, but for some, I guess the mental peace was ‘priceless’”
The local materials supply chain seemed to be back on track after Florence caused transportation issues.
“After speaking with many of our builder members over the course of the last week and this morning, almost all of them have indicated that materials are readily available from an ordering standpoint and that deliveries are making it to job sites on time and within ordering parameters,” Moore said in an email Oct. 10.
Spetrino said while the supply chain wasn’t in a “normal” state even before the storm, overall, “we really haven’t had an issue getting materials. Certainly more planning and logistics are involved, but a delay isn’t turning into an extended period (or an indefinite delay).”
Spetrino pointed out that one of Wilmington’s primary industries is construction, which can be an asset when it comes to storm recovery.
“We are fortunate in that our local market has the skill set to address, solve and respond to the current crisis. If we didn’t have the network of HBA, qualified builders and consistent growth, our area would be way behind the curve with regard to a recovery,” Spetrino said. “We are watching problems get solved at lightning speed. It isn’t because of out-of-state contractors; it’s because we have a strong local base of capable contractors. Certainly we all lost the month of September from a production standpoint – but that’s it. We aren’t going to lose October and November, and that’s the silver lining when it comes to a town like ours.”