North Port social services still seeing effects of construction downturn

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SARASOTA COUNTY - North Port once thrived on the construction industry, but this holiday season hundreds of families are in need of work. Despite recent reports of a demand for construction workers in parts of the country, workers say those jobs have not returned yet to North Port.

One indicator of how the local economy is doing is how many are signing up for assistance to put presents under the tree. "Right now we have 1,100 children registered for the toy chest." Zulma Solero heads up North Port's Social Services program. She says it's still a far cry from the good times. "We used to have only 500 children at the height of the building boom. Half of what we are doing right now."

A sonic boom as loud here as anywhere. "It trickles down. Not just construction but all the other jobs that are out there," says Solero.

Developers like Pat Neal are hearing it too. "Building and development use to employ about 23,000 people in our community. Now it is down to 8,000 or 9,000. That number is certainly growing."

In fact reports indicate contractors are finding shortages of workers. In Florida building permits are up while nearly one third of builders surveyed report shortages to positions like framing workers. "It's odd. It's perverse to say that we are having difficulty finding good quality trades. People who were in our business 7 years ago are gone. They've gone to Texas or other places in America."

In a place like North Port, where perhaps already built houses still need filling, Solero says it's not what she's seeing yet. "That is not the case here on North Port. There are plenty of people who would love to have a job in construction."

By the way it also means fewer people to help. There are currently not enough toys right now in the drive to meet the demand says Solero. "Families are really suffering right now. It's not just the parents but it is the children. They are the ones that our heart goes out to. Anything you can do to help us out and help those families and kids to put a smile on their face would be wonderful."

Despite needing community support those at Social Services say they are still taking applications for families in need. They also need volunteers to hand out what they do get beginning December 10th.

Toys that are desperately needed include those for infants and toddlers up to two years old and for children between the ages of ten and fourteen. You can drop the items off at North Port City Hall.