Atlanta construction sector upbeat, survey says

Construction workers early this year working on the Northside Drive Pedestrian Bridge that will connect Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Vine City MARTA station. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

It’s an upbeat time for the metro Atlanta construction industry, according to a survey of local companies.

Revenues and profits have been rising and the biggest problem for the sector has been finding and hiring the right workers, said Tom Jollay, co-leader for the construction practice at Bennett Thrasher, an Atlanta-based accounting and consulting firm which conducted the survey with the Kennesaw State University College of Construction Management.

More than half of all construction companies saw an increase in profit markets and more than three-quarters saw revenues rise, he said.

“The construction industry is still strong,” he said. “The backlog – work that has been bid for and won but that hasn’t started yet – is very strong and that is a good sign.”

Georgia has 9,600 privately-held construction companies, most of them in metro Atlanta.

The sector was decimated in the aftermath of the housing bubble’s burst and the vicious recession that followed: More than 40 percent of the construction jobs in metro Atlanta vanished, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since then, the industry has made a robust recovery – with building of commercial and residential projects, as well as huge sports stadiums for the Falcons and the Braves.

+ Construction workers move glass into place on the new corporate headquarters for NCR last summer. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM.

Even with the completion of those mega-structures, demand for new construction has been steady.

Employment in the sector has jumped 48 percent since hitting bottom after the downturn, according to the BLS – and now many companies – more than 83 percent of respondents – say it is hard to find the employees they need.

“A lot of [workers] left during the downturn, and it’s been a struggle to get them to come back,” Jollay said.

Moreover, baby boomers account for an outsized portion of the construction workforce, he said. “Everybody’s dealing with the baby boomers retiring and they are not necessarily getting replaced by younger people.”

The worker shortage hasn’t been enough to chill expansion or shut down companies, but it is a challenge, Jollay said.

Some companies are boosting pay or bonuses. Some are choosing their work more carefully. And newly minted workers can find jobs, Jollay said: graduates of the Kennesaw State program now receive two or three job offers.

The average pay of employees is up 5.2 percent in the past year.

Estimated average pay, various construction jobs:

President, CEO: $189,754.

Chief financial officer: $118,489.

Controller: $92,488.

Project manager: $81,042.

Sales manager: $90,571.

Foreman: $53,017.

Welder: $37,708

Bricklayer: $49,459,

Pipefitter: $46,384

Sources: Bennett Thrasher, Kennesaw State University School of Construction Management, Salary.com

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