Construction Jobs: Finally Making A Comeback?

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With mortgage rates hitting all-time lows, will jobs in construction finally start to boom? After three dismal years, Al Dio Dati thinks so. The owner of a Yonkers, N.Y.-based residential-construction firm for more than 50 years, he says that expectations are so good this year that he expects to double the number of people working for him.

"We're setting a goal for selling six homes this year," says Dio Dati, 83. "It'll keep the crews going all year long." Dio Dati typically maintains two crews of four people each. But with expectations of a being much busier, he plans to employ "at least" 16 workers.

Dio Dati isn't alone. Nationwide, homebuilders are gearing up for a busy year, as new-home construction surged 12.1 percent, according to a January report from the Census Bureau. That's not only good news for homebuilders and workers involved in the construction trades, but for businesses that make or supply products such as power tools, air conditioners, carpeting, furniture, appliances and much more. That in turn likely means more work -- and fatter paychecks -- for those employed in producing such goods.

Data released Feb. 1 by the Labor Department showed that the economy added 28,000 construction jobs in January. Since reaching a low in January 2011, employers have nearly 300,000 construction jobs, with a third of the gain just in the last four months.

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Though peak employment remains 2 million jobs below the previous record set in April 2006, there is reason for optimism. A separate report Friday from the Census Bureau showed construction spending rose 0.9 percent in December, compared to the previous month, to its highest level since August 2009.

With spring right around the corner, Dio Dati expects business to pick up more as warmer weather pushes more homebuyers into the housing market. He already has two projects on his books, including a two-family house in the New York City suburb of Mount Vernon. It's one of two "hot leads" that he's currently working on, which involve working with wannabe homeowners who already own lots on which to build their homes. "If they didn't own property, we would never consider them a hot lead," he says.

Before the housing market tanked, Dio Dati employed upward of 100 workers, doing mainly partial or complete rehabs of outdated dwellings in the Bronx. After the housing boom went bust, however, the work dried up.

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Dio Dati has since left remodeling projects behind in favor of building new homes. But they aren't the traditional "stick-built" homes with which many Americans are familiar. Rather, Dio Dati works with two suppliers of modular homes -- factory-built structures comprised of large, prefabricated sections that are assembled at the home site.

Switching to modular construction has allowed Dio Dati to reduce losses that result from foul weather, which not only delays construction, but can result in damage to equipment and supplies if the storms are severe. His workers essentially piece together the big blocks on top of an already laid foundation, a process that produces a weather-tight building in a matter of days rather than the weeks required for stick-built homes.

Dio Dati says that he's seen a lot changes in the construction business over the years, but he doesn't have plans to quit anytime soon, though there is talk of bringing his two daughters back into the business. He enjoys staying busy, he says, noting that he attempted to retire when he turned 65 nearly 20 years ago. "That lasted a week."





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