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Central Florida construction industry sees bright future amid pandemic

Central Florida construction industry sees bright future amid pandemic

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — For local tourism and economic development leaders, a Department of Labor recalculation made for disappointing news when it comes to Central Florida's economic recovery.

"It muted the comeback, if you will. It suggested the return of industries wasn’t as optimistic as we thought," said Dale A. Brill, the senior vice president of research at Orlando Economic Partnership. “It was a little more drag on the economy than we had hoped. Let’s use the data to look forward."

And in their focus on the future and economic gains painted by the fresh data set, Brill said that he sees promise in the construction industry right now.

According to the partnership, Central Florida's construction industry is 2.7% below pre-pandemic levels of employment, outpacing the national average of 3.8%.

“The rate of return to health, if you will, in the Orlando region is much better than anywhere else in the U.S.," Brill said, adding that amid the pandemic, home renovation projects, new home construction and companies making investments in facility updates is helping to fuel the comeback.

“Businesses tend to look forward and make adjustments based upon how they think things will go, and base their investments today on this view of tomorrow," he explained, continuing, "That’s driving this engine that we think is going to be humming quite nicely by mid-summer."

Those same investments not only saved bathroom-pod company SurePods, but it is propelling them to expand.

“Over the course of 2020, we doubled our manpower, from 65 to 130 folks on the craft side of it," said Greg King, SurePods assistant general manager. “If you would’ve talked to us about a year ago … definitely a different mindset than we have right now."

As the pandemic began, the company behind big projects, like modular spaces in KPMG Lakehouse in Lake Nona, saw contracts dry up. 

But, SurePods pivoted from hospitality work to healthcare, signing nine new projects in less than a year.

Recently SurePods, which brings 10 to 12 trades together under one roof to complete the pods, acquired a 40,000 sq. ft.-next-door facility to their massive Orlando warehouse, which sits at 80,000 sq. ft. They are now looking to hire 40 more people.

But, according to King, often hyper-focused skills or certifications are not a pre-requisite for a job. SurePods readily trains new hires, from painters to plumbers, and allows them to try their hand at various trades before making any long-term decisions about their role within the company.

“We have training programs for each individual discipline, whether it's tile, electrical or plumbing. We find out what folks are interested in and what their skill set is," he said. "We want to benefit from their skillset, but we also want them to be happy doing what they’re doing."

For others looking to get a leg up in the construction industry, Brill suggested quick courses to garner basic skills.

“Look into Valencia, look into Seminole State, look at UCF because there’s a real education evolution that’s happening as what we call ‘rapid credentialing’ is taking hold, or you don’t have to go back to school for two years or four years," he said.

As for King, who has worked with SurePods for the last 10 years, he is looking forward to meeting new hires on the shop floor and described where the company is now at in terms of projects is "refreshing."

“There were a lot of years where we broke even, we may have lost money. But, to see us turn the corner in the last year and a half, during the course of a pandemic, is surreal," King said.