People underestimate the extent and complexity of rebuilding needed as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, AECOM CEO Michael Burke told CNBC.
Moody's has estimated the two storms combined caused between $150 billion and $200 billion in damage. The high end of that range is 25% more than the damage to New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Burke said, noting that rebuilding efforts in some areas affected by that storm are still ongoing.
Burke said AECOM has hundreds of employees in Florida and Texas assessing the damage to shipping channels and water, power and transportation infrastructure. Also challenging, he said, will be coordinating local, state and federal funding for a rebuilding effort that could cost more than twice the annual budget for the state of Texas.
The persisting skilled labor shortage is expected to make the rebuilding efforts in Texas and Florida more difficult. Even before the recent wave of natural disasters, 70% of contractors were having trouble finding qualified workers, according to an August report from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
In light of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey, Houston contractors are especially likely to face challenges finding sufficient labor. Houston lost the most construction jobs of any major U.S. city from August 2016 to August 2017, according to the Houston Chronicle, citing AGC data.
The labor shortage could be further exacerbated by an exodus of workers turning to Mexico for rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katia and recent earthquakes there. Both documented and undocumented workers have traditionally made up a significant portion of the construction labor market in Texas and Florida.
Though a limited labor pool will continue to impact rebuilding efforts, a temporary rollback of some regulations and efforts to expedite other approvals could accelerate recovery. Texas' lack of regulation on trades like roofing, drywall and general contracting could make it easier for contractors outside the state to assist with rebuilding efforts there.
In Florida, the governor has allowed licensed general, residential and building contractors to install new roofs and repair existing ones — work that typically must be performed by a licensed roofing contractor. The move is meant to shorten the time owners must wait for roof repairs to be completed.
Still, because the labor shortage is affecting the industry nationally, it's unclear whether help from contractors in neighboring states will alleviate the significant need for workers in Texas and Florida. National Association of Home Builders Chief Economist Rob Dietz said the Houston metro area alone will need between 10,000 and 20,000 construction workers for storm-related repairs in the next 12 months.