Miami "Corner" measures construction bust
By Jim Loney
MIAMI (Reuters) - At the height of Miami's condo construction boom, a stretch of South Dixie Highway south of the city was the place to be for a painter or drywaller looking for work or a contractor looking for workers.
But those days are long gone, along with evaporating home values across Florida, and the state that led the nation in job growth during a spectacular real estate boom is diving with a devastating construction bust.
What was once a horde of hundreds of laborers who showed up before dawn has dwindled to a few dozen. Many have drifted to more promising hunting grounds in hurricane- hit Texas and Louisiana, or home to Mexico or Central America.
"It's very bad," said Gustavo Almendares, a 64-year-old Honduran grandfather who spent 14 years working what is known as "The Corner," so long that many of the others began calling him "Tio," Spanish for uncle.
"Before, at 5:30 in the morning, there were lines of contractors in their cars and trucks waiting for workers," he said. "Now it doesn't exist."
Long dependent on population growth and construction for its economic health, Florida lost 71,900 construction jobs from September 2007 to September 2008, more than 62 percent of all the jobs lost in the state. The downturn parallels a property crash that began after the market peaked in late 2005.
During the boom, Florida's unemployment rate ran well below the nation's. But at 6.6 percent it is now 0.5 percent higher than the U.S. jobless rate.
Florida's gross domestic product is fourth among the U.S. states, behind only California, Texas and New York. In 2004 and 2005, when property prices were booming, Arizona, Nevada and Florida led the nation in GDP growth. Continued...