Construction workers unemployed despite building boom

Honolulu’s skyline is changing, now filled with new buildings and construction cranes.

But experts say that’s not telling people the full story.

The value of private sector construction permits has skyrocketed to $2.8 billion. That value represents building activity in Hawaii. Still, experts say there are many unemployed workers in the industry.

Dan O’Sullivan has been building homes in Hawaii for 40 years. But lately, things have been a little rough.

“(Business has) been really slow for the last year and a half, probably off 20 percent,” O’Sullivan said.

O’Sullivan has eight people on his staff. When business was booming, he had more than double that amount.

He says despite the work happening around town, residential construction is down and he blames the economy and a lengthy permitting process.

In 1998, building permits for homes made up 65 percent of the value for all private sector projects in Hawaii. Last year, that number dropped to 52 percent.

That’s according to Pacific Resource Partnership, which represents the largest construction union in the state.

“Although in Kakaako and Waikiki, it may seen like a lot of construction, statewide, there hasn’t been the return of residential housing in particular,” said John White, executive director of PRP.

White said because residential construction has not completely rebounded, many workers remain on the bench.

According to PRP, about 30 percent of union carpenters are out of work statewide. In 2007, none of them were unemployed.

“Why is the residential market sagging?” KHON2 asked.

“We know we have to build thousands of homes for residents across the state. There are a number of projects that are getting their approvals right now,” White said.

He said if projects like Koa Ridge and Hoopili break ground, that would mean thousands of jobs and a big boost to the residential construction market.

Until the market rebounds, some workers are being trained in other areas and local businesses are being flexible.

“I’m taking projects that I might not take before. I’m taking jobs to make sure my workers get their hours in,” O’Sullivan said.

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