A Google Maps view of the Rio Grande river dividing Mexico from the United States near Brownsville, Texas.
Texas portions of the US-Mexico border follow the Rio Grande, which cuts a meandering track through privately-owned land (Source: Google Maps).

President Donald Trump's promised border wall could hit an early snag: shortages of labor and cement in the region, which the wall project would worsen, according to industry sources. Bloomberg had this report on January 26 (see: "Trump Wants to Build a Wall. Finding Workers Won’t Be Easy," by Lauren Etter and Shannon Pettypiece). "A labor shortage has left few hands to build houses and factories in the region, where wages have already been rising and projects delayed," Bloomberg reported. "Now, the president’s plan for 'immediate construction of a border wall' will force the government to find legal builders for a project that could employ thousands if not tens of thousands ... 'If he is going to build a wall with legal workers in Texas, he is going to have a very hard time,' said Stan Marek, chief executive officer of Marek Brothers, a Houston commercial builder. 'There is a real shortage of legal labor.'" Ken Simonson, chief economist at the Association of General Contractors (AGC), said, “Contractors in general throughout the country have been saying it’s been difficult to get workers. Getting workers who would be vetted to work on government projects and then getting them to these locations, which are pretty far away, would be among the many challenges in getting this done.”

Tapping the pool of legal labor in Texas could leave the state's contractors with an even smaller population to choose from, reported Bloomberg: "About half of construction workers in Texas are undocumented, and nationwide 14% lack authorization for employment in the U.S., according to the Workers Defense Project, an Austin group that advocates for undocumented laborers."

Concrete for the proposed wall on the Mexican border could also be a problem, Bloomberg reported—and the country's biggest domestic producer of cement for that concrete happens to be CEMEX, a Mexican corporation (see: "Mexican Cement Maker Poised to Profit From Trump’s Wall," by Andrea Navarro, Oliver Sachgau, and Thomas Black). Most of the top ten U.S. concrete suppliers are owned by multinational firms based in Europe or South America (see: "Top 10 Concrete Producers in North America," by Victoria K. Sicaras - Concrete Producer 9/26/16). "Cemex SAB would be one of the companies best-positioned to profit from a wall that could cost $15 billion or more as it has operations along both sides of the border," reported Bloomberg. "Cemex’s share price jumped as much as 2.6% Wednesday and is the best performing among its peers this year, with its stock up 18% as of Tuesday."

Building the wall will be a complicated and difficult undertaking along some sections of the border, comments the Washington Post—particularly in Texas, where land along the border is privately owned and the border itself follows the convoluted course of the Rio Grande river (see: "5 challenges Trump may face building a border wall," by Kevin Schaul and Samuel Granados).

Any house that isn't properly attached to its foundation can slide off in an earthquake. The problem is even worse when the house is built on cripple walls; it doesn't take much shaking to make cripple walls collapse.
Any house that isn't properly attached to its foundation can slide off in an earthquake. The problem is even worse when the house is built on cripple walls; it doesn't take much shaking to make cripple walls collapse.

Seismic retrofits in California got a boost this month from the California Earthquake Authority, the nonprofit that supplies seismic hazard insurance in the state. "The newly expanded Earthquake Brace + Bolt Program has $6 million in grant money available in 2017, enough to retrofit 2,000 homes, said Janiele Maffei, chief mitigation officer for the California Earthquake Authority, which is co-managing the program with the California Office of Emergency Services," reported the San Francisco Chronicle (see: "Quake-retrofit grants offered to homeowners in high-risk areas," by Peter Fimrite). The retrofit program targets a typical failure pattern in past quakes: toppling of poorly-braced and weakly connected cripple walls under wood-frame houses (for technical info, see: "Seismic Retrofit For Cripple Walls," by Howard Cook - JLC 4/06).

Background: "Earthquake insurance coverage changed radically after the 1994 Northridge temblor," the Los Angeles Times explained in January (see: "Rethinking Your Stance on Earthquake Coverage," by Liz Pulliam Weston). "Until then, companies that wrote homeowners insurance in the state were also required to offer earthquake coverage. After Northridge, most insurers refused to write either, saying the $12.5 billion in insurance claims from the quake was far higher than expected—higher, in fact, than the total of all earthquake insurance premiums ever collected in California. The state Legislature eventually responded by creating the California Earthquake Authority, a state-run insurance pool." As with flood insurance in flood-prone regions, earthquake coverage is limited, the Authority explains: "The purpose of earthquake insurance is to help put a roof back over your head. It does not replace everything you lost."

House flipping is on the rebound in the United States, but is still far below the levels seen in the bubble years of the mid-2000s. USA Today had this report (see: "House flipping is on the rebound — and that’s not good for everyone," by Paul Davidson): "Flipping, defined as the sale of a home at least twice within a year, made up 6.1% of all home sales in 2016, up from 5.3% the previous year and the highest level since 2006, real estate research firm Trulia says in a new report ... The top markets were Las Vegas, with flips making up 10.5% of all sales, followed by Daytona Beach, Fla., at 9%; Tampa, at 8.4%; and Memphis and Fresno, Calif., both at 8.2%." Bloomberg also picked up on the Trulia report (see: "Americans Are Flipping Houses Like It’s 2006," by Patrick Clark). And across the country, Trulia's report sparked local interest, as city newspapers took a look at their rankings on the Trulia list. Read more:


Indiana: Gary's blighted neighborhoods offer recoverable resources, says a report in the NWI Times (see: "Steel City Salvage training contractors on deconstruction in Gary," by Joseph S. Pete).

Virginia: Airbnb is under fire in Virginia, reports the Virginian-Pilot (see: "Virginia lawmakers considering Airbnb bill to fine homeowners $10,000 if illegally renting," by Mary Beth Gahan).

Idaho: Heavy snowfall is causing a rash of roof collapses in Idaho and other western states, reports the Everett Herald (see: "Snow-covered buildings collapsing in rare US West weather," by Keith Ridler).