Experts disagree about Katrina’s effect on the workforce

The damage caused by Hurricane Katrina will produce dramatic ramifications for the construction workforce, according to the Herman Trend Alert, issued by a firm that concentrates on workforce and workplace issues.

Adding to the construction industry’s existing workforce shortage, thousands of jobs will be created in the area affected by Katrina, the authors of the alert say. There will be a high demand for engineers, architects and design-build specialists, and construction contractors of all types and sizes will need equipment operators, skilled and unskilled laborers, administrators, managers and support personnel.

But Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, disagrees. “I don’t see this giant migration of construction labor coming back into the hurricane region,” he said.

Simonson thinks the net impact on labor will be small, and will be felt in regions of the country not affected by the hurricane because of evacuees not returning home.

But Simonson and the authors of the Herman Trend Alert agree rebuilding will be a long process.

Before reconstruction can begin, the alert states, considerable planning will be needed. Community leaders must decide whether to rebuild in certain areas or take advantage of opportunities for different land use.

“Even though the president gave a directive to his cabinet” to create the White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response, Simonson said, “the timetable for rebuilding is highly uncertain.”