2007-10-18 / News

Sluggish economy slows Jamestown housing construction activity

By Sam Bari

The Jamestown building industry is feeling the crunch of a sluggish economy according to construction workers, tradesmen, and contractors.

Jamestown native Kerry Sheehan, owner of Kerry Sheehan Construction, has been a contractor on the island for over two decades. He said that builders are constructing fewer "spec homes." He attributes the slowdown to the soft real estate market.

"Whenever the real estate market slows down, the building industry will be affected," Sheehan said. "We seem to be holding our own. Large renovation projects and people who already own property are still building. Although, I do notice more conservative spending on renovations," Sheehan said.

Ken Gladding, owner of Ken Gladding Excavating, agreed with Sheehan and said the local industry is definitely feeling the pinch of an uncertain economy. "When you have a soft real estate market, and less land available, like in the Shores area, building is going to slow down with it. Getting permits to build in high density areas gets harder every day," Gladding said. He estimated that business was down 20 to 30 percent from last year.

Some areas, however, have not yet felt the adverse effects of the economic downturn. Tom Tiernan, owner of T.M.T. Construction, a local general contractor said, "The remodeling business is doing very well. We're busy." He also said that he feels lucky because he knows "a lot of guys are out of work."

During the month of September, only three building permits were issued to build new houses on the island. Two were new construction, and one was rebuilding an existing structure. According to town hall records, most building permits were for repairs and for projects costing less than $20,000.

Vincent Vessella, owner of V.J. Vessella Building and Improvements said, "Business is off at least 30 percent from last year. People are holding back. They're doing some repairs and partial projects. If they plan on a new roof and new siding, they might do the roof now, and put off the siding because they don't want to spend the money right now. It's very hard for oneman operations like me."

Stephen Crowell, another local builder and owner of his own contracting company agreed with Vessella. "I think business could be off 30 to 40 percent from last year," Crowell said. "Everybody is feeling the crunch, even the big guys. And the cost of building isn't going down. Materials cost more every day," he said.

According to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in an Associated Press news release, "A deepening housing slump probably will be a significant drag on economic growth into next year." If this is true, relief for the building industry is not expected any time soon.

The U. S. Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly announced that new construction in August of 2007 was down 19.1 percent from last year and total building permits were down 24.5 percent.

The consensus of Jamestown builders and tradesmen is that business is slow and they are available. Any Jamestowners wishing to build, renovate or repair should call now, because deals can be made.

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